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It Starts With A Family

Chapter Text

Henry grunted in frustration as he stared at the blank poster board.

"What's up, Kid?"

Henry turned, the anger falling from his face. He wasn't angry with his mom, though she was just about the only one, "Family Tree assignment for school." He said. Emma nodded in understanding. They'd had this conversation before. "I mean, I just don't get it. People don't just appear out of thin air."

Emma sighed, "Not everyone wants to talk about their pasts. I know that better than anyone."

"You, I get. The foster system isn't exactly supposed to be pleasant, and you don't know who your parents are. That's not your fault. But I mean, even you've told me a couple foster system horror stories. Dad and Grandpa though …" He trailed off in desperation.

"Your dad hasn't had the easiest life. Neither has your grandpa. Sometimes people just aren't ready."

"When will he be ready? When I'm forty? I could have a grandmother out there, for all I know." Emma shook her head, increasing Henry's frustration, "How can you be so okay with it?"

Emma looked down, "I love him, kid." She said quietly. She kissed Henry's forehead and headed out of the kitchen, leaving Henry to brood on his project.

 

Emma felt ready to collapse. She didn't know how long she had been running. She didn't even know where she was. She couldn't look back though. She wouldn't go back. She was sick of the foster homes. Nobody was going to adopt her; that was plain at this point. The only person crazy enough to want her was Ingrid. Ingrid. Just thinking her name made Emma's skin crawl. She had seemed so nice and normal. Emma thought she could be like a real mother, but the woman was batshit crazy. There was no sugarcoating it. It still stung though. What was wrong with her that she would trust someone like that? After years of foster parents didn't give a shit about her unless they were being inspected, not to mention the incident with Lily, Emma thought she had done a good job of building up her walls. Ingrid had broken through them though. She had started small, slowly pulling away the curtains and barriers around Emma's heart. Now she was back where she started. She was just some vulnerable kid nobody wanted. She had been running so fast that her legs felt like they might fall off. She relented, collapsing as she tried to block out the memories. She couldn't though; she could feel them bubbling up inside her. Desperately, she tried to push them back down, but they bested her. And then, they were on the pavement. Maybe it hadn't just been emotional pain.

"Are you okay?" A boy's voice asked.

She kept staring at the ground, willing it all to come up now and be done with, "I'm hacking my guts out on a sidewalk. Does that answer your question?"

She felt a hand on her back, trying to steady her. She shrugged him off. "Maybe I can help."

"No thanks."

"You just said-"

"I said I'm not okay. Not that I wanted help." She spat before heaving for what seemed to be the final time. When she didn't hear footsteps disappearing, she decided to finally look at the nosy boy.

He looked nice, genuinely concerned, but Emma had been fooled by seemingly genuine concern before. His hair was dark and curly, and his eyes looked honest. But, again, honesty could be faked.

"You should sit down." He said, "My Papa and I -"

"Your Papa?" Emma asked, not bothering to stifle her laugh.

The boy rolled his eyes, "We live nearby. I could take you-"

"What do I look like to you? Some kind of moron? You're a complete stranger. You could be a pervert. Or a murderer."

"I'm a fifteen-year-old boy, hardly a recipe for a hardened criminal."

"Well, your Papa could be."

He rolled his eyes again, "At least let me take you to the drug store. Get you something to eat, and something to help keep it down." Emma started to protest, "What do you think I'm going to do to you in front of a pharmacist, cashier, and a drug store full of people? If you think I can pull something off publically, unarmed, by myself, at fifteen, you must have either a pretty high opinion of me or a pretty low one of yourself."

Emma looked down at her shoes, which were, of course, covered with the former contents of her stomach, and weighed her options. She had no money. She would need some things. And this boy was willing to buy them for her. That left her with one question, "What's in it for you?"

"Why does there have to be something in it for me?" He asked.

"Because nobody gives stuff away for free. People are selfish and everybody has a motive."

"You want to know my motive. I've been in bad places before. I've been sick, and I've been miserable, but the one thing I've never been is on my own. I've always had someone to look after me."

In spite of herself, Emma gave a wistful smile, "Must be nice." She muttered, refusing to let her eyes water again.

"There are two kinds of people in this world. There are people like my mother, who think of themselves and leave you behind for their own selfish reasons. And then there are people like my Papa, who do whatever they have to to make sure you don't get left behind, regardless of what they have to sacrifice. Those are the examples I have to choose from, and I know which one I want to be." Emma looked up at him, too stunned to even laugh at his use of the word Papa this time, "So that's my motive. And you're right, it is completely selfish. I'm taking advantage of an opportunity to be the kind of man I want to be."

He waited a minute, and Emma played his words over in her head, "Well," she finally said, "I guess I could help you with that. I mean, if it's that important to you."

He shot her a smile, and she tried not to let herself feel warm. This wasn't caving. This wasn't letting somebody else in. He could do his good deed, and she would be on her way. She would forget him completely.

The two of them headed to the drugstore together. The silence was killing her, so she finally said, "I'm Emma."

"Neal."

 

"What's wrong?" Neal asked, putting down the bookcase he was struggling to assemble and turning to face her.

"I just entered the room," Emma said with a laugh.

"Yeah, but I know when your upset. The air changes and nature bows knowing it should never have pissed you off."

Emma chuckled awkwardly, "You know me well." Her husband nodded, "I guess I just wish … that I knew you a little better."

Neal sighed. This wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation. He knew it wouldn't be the last either, "Emma-" He started in his most placating voice. She cut him off before he could get going.

"Henry's doing a family tree project for school. He wants to know if he has a grandmother somewhere out there-"

"He doesn't," Neal interjected, hoping it would help, knowing it wouldn't.

"But how am I to know that? How am I to explain to our son something I don't understand myself?" she sighed, "I get talking about your past is painful. Believe me, I get that. And I get that maybe Henry is too young to hear some of what you went through, but I've known you half my life, and I still don't know where you were born, or anything about you before we met. And you and your dad, I mean, I'd met some wackos in the foster system, don't get me wrong, but you guys were plain weird. Good weird, which is why I stayed, but weird nonetheless. You never talk about where you came from, your past, your mother … I just, I just don't get it."

"My life started when I met you. Nothing before that matters."

Emma rolled her eyes, "You've fed me that line before."

"And I recall you finding it charming."

"We were naked. It doesn't count."

"So nothing you say when we're naked counts?"

"Neal-"

"Look, what do you want me to say?" He said, pacing, "There's not much to tell. Our lives were boring, ordinary, and as for my mother," He paused, looking defeated. It was the same way he always looked when his mother came up. Sadly, he sat on the bed, "I barely even remember her." He finished.

Emma sat down on the bed next to him and took his hand, stroking it as a means of comfort, "You could tell me what you do remember." She said.

"No, I couldn't," Neal replied, shaking his head.

Frustrated, Emma stood, "We can't keep going like this forever."

"You knew this about me when we got married. You knew when we got involved-"

"I knew you weren't ready to share. I gave you time. I gave you space. I figured eventually, you'd let me in. I get putting up walls, Neal, better than most. It took a long time for me to trust you, but I did. I trusted you with my whole heart. I just wish you could trust me with yours."

Shaking her head, she walked out of their bedroom, only to run into Henry. He was staring at her shocked. "Henry-" She started, but he cut her off.

"He's never told you either?" Emma shook her head, seeing no point in hiding it, "Mom, I'm sorry. I … don't want you guys to fight because of me."

"We weren't-" She started, but he shot her a knowing look, "It wasn't because of you." She amended.

"It's a stupid assignment anyway," Henry said. "Hey, you know what we should do? We should get away. I have a break in school coming up, and it's almost your birthday. We should go somewhere, just the four of us." He looked at her hopefully. Emma sighed. There wasn't much she could deny Henry when he looked at her like that, "I'll talk to your father and grandfather about it. Now, get back to your homework."

Henry nodded, running off excited. He was such a hopeful kid, thinking a trip away could fix everything. Emma knew it wasn't that simple though. Then again, you never knew.

Chapter Text

"I think we're lost," Henry said, turning the map inside out.

"We can't be lost." Emma responds, "We don't know where we're going."

It was true. They hadn't exactly picked a destination. It had been a long time since Emma had just taken off, not knowing where she was going. The last time had been when she met the Stiltskins. That was, however, the best thing that had ever happened to her. She needed that again, that luck that had brought her to them. And if it all went wrong, she would still have her family, and they would all have a good story to tell.

"Look, there's a sign, see," Emma said, pointing. It read Welcome to Storybrooke. Hm, strange name, Emma thought.

"But that's what I'm talking about." Henry said, "There isn't supposed to be a town here according to the map. Look." He held the map out, but Emma wasn't dumb enough to take it. She was driving after all.

"We'll stop in somewhere and ask for directions then," Emma said as they drove through the town. She glanced out the window taking in their surroundings. The town seemed nice enough. It was simple, quaint, maybe a little old-fashioned, but not the sort of place that would do anybody any harm.

Emma drove around for a bit, finally stopping in front of a gas station. She got out of the car and headed inside. Neal followed behind her.

"You're coming with me to ask for directions?" She challenged, humor in her voice.

"Hey, I'm not the typical guy, okay. I can ask for directions."

Emma laughed, "Well, maybe so, but it doesn't take both of us." She opened her purse and grabbed her wallet, tossing it to him, "Here. Why don't you get gas while I'm in there."

Henry rolled down the window, calling out, "Can you get some cinnamon buns or something?"

Emma smiled. Both her and Henry had a thing about cinnamon. "Sure kid." She responded, heading into the store.

 

Neal smiled, watching his wife walk over to the gas station. Henry had been right. This trip would be good for them. He knew it had been Henry's idea; he heard them talking that night after he and Emma had fought about his secrets.

He hated hiding things from her. From the moment he met Emma, Neal had wanted nothing more than to tell her all of his secrets. But Emma had clearly been a skeptic, and anyway, even the most open-minded person would find his story a little hard to swallow. If you start the story with "My father is Rumpelstiltskin," you won't get to the next sentence. Whoever you're talking too will either run off or call an asylum. And "My father is Rumpelstiltskin," didn't even scratch the surface of Neal's life. How could he explain to Emma that he had grown up in an enchanted land where people rode in horse-drawn carriages and Ogres were a real threat? It just didn't work. Neal couldn't offer Emma or Henry his past. All he could give them was a future. He prayed daily that that would be enough.

"Are you going to be much longer?" A British female voice asked.

Neal looked at the numbers flashing by. It was more than he had meant to get; time had gotten away from him.

Quickly, he took the pump out and took care of the bill. Then, he turned to the woman, "All yours." He said, holding the pump out to her. She took it, giving him an annoyed smile. Suddenly, Neal was four-years-old. He hadn't seen those eyes in so long. Still, he knew them. Some things a boy never forgets, like his mother's eyes.

He looked the woman up and down. She had Milah's eyes all right, and Milah's dark hair. She wasn't Milah, he was sure of that. Aside from the fact that she couldn't be, she didn't look exactly like here. Again, a boy never forgets his mother's face. Still, the resemblance was striking.

"Have I somehow given the impression that I like men to gawk at me with their mouths open?" She asked.

Neal shook his head, "Sorry, I uh, you just … sorry, does the name Milah mean anything to you?"

"That's a rather pathetic pick-up line."

"I'm not trying-"

"Hey, everything okay?" He heard Emma ask behind him.

Not knowing how to answer, Neal decided instead to introduce himself. "I'm Neal. This is my wife, Emma."

"Wife. Well, you are a naughty boy then, aren't you?"

Emma's eyebrows went up, "Excuse me, lady-"

"Everything okay?" Came the question again, this time from Neal's father who had gotten out of the car. He hobbled over on his cane to see what all the fuss was about. Upon seeing the British woman, his eyes widened. They may have been wider than Neal's if that were possible. In any case, Neal knew that his father has seen the resemblance as well.

"Oh, just a bit of a misunderstanding I suppose." The woman seemed suddenly more polite, but she wasn't looking at Neal, Emma, or Neal's father. Her eyes were focused on Henry, who had come along after his grandfather.

"Henry-" Emma began to chastise.

"What? Everyone else got out of the car." Emma shook her head, rolling her eyes. "So, what's going on?"

"I was waiting for the pump is all. Your father was kind enough to give it over. I don't know what all the fuss is about really." She spoke directly to Henry, smiling at him kindly.

"Neal, a word." Neal's father said, gently pulling his son to the side.

Neal nodded, "We'll be back in a minute."

The two of them headed over to a corner of the sidewalk. Once they were well out of the way, Neal spoke, "You saw it too. I know you did. She looks … she looks like mom."

"Yes, she does resemble your mother." His father confirmed, "Not just her though." Neal looked at his father, questioningly, "You remember what I told you about what happened to your mother. How she ran off with a pirate." Neal nodded, "When a man's wife is stolen when he his taunted about his inability to protect his family, he never forgets. That face, that pirate has long haunted me. And that woman," he turned, pointing at the woman who was now talking with Emma and Henry, "She resembles both your mother and the man she ran off with."

"But, how is that possible?"

His father shook his head, "I don't know Bae." He replied, slipping. Sometimes, when he wasn't thinking of it, he still called his son by his given name, as opposed to the one he had picked out of a book from the 1960s. "There is something wrong with this town. I could sense it when we drove up … told myself I was just being paranoid."

"Sense what?"

"I'm not sure. It's … it's not exactly magic, but there's something … something not quite natural."

Both men stood looking at each other for a minute, neither quite sure what to do.

"We need to get out of here." Neal finally said, "We worked to hard to get away from magic, build a life … I'm not letting either of us get dragged back in."

His father smiled, "Of course son."

They headed back to Emma, Henry, and the woman.

"-Right up the road. I'd be happy to show you the way if you want."

"The way to what?" Neal asked, putting his arms around Emma.

"A diner." She answered, "Thought it might be a good idea to refuel before we hit the road, and Jamie says they have pretty good burgers."

"Jamie?" Neal asked, looking at the woman.

She held out her hand for him to shake, and he obliged, "Jamie P. Jones." She said.

Neal noticed his father's eyes widen slightly. "Jones. Interesting surname."

Emma looked over at her father-in-law, eyebrows raised, "Seriously? You have problems with her last name?"

Henry stifled a laugh, getting a slightly reproachful, but mostly good-humored look from Neal.

"Not a problem. Quite the opposite in fact. You have a lovely name, miss." Neal's father said, bowing slightly, "As my daughter-in-law implied, my last name is quite strange, so you may call me Jack if you wish."

Jamie nodded, "Right. Well, follow me then." She said, getting back in her car. The four of them got back into their car and followed her lead. Neal tried to keep his anxiety at bay. He could tell his father was doing the same, though he seemed to be doing a slightly better job of it than Neal was.

 

"Where … where are we?" It came out as a strangled sort of a cough. Baelfire shivered. His own voice sounded bizarre to his ears. Shivering, he stood, looking around. They were lying on the ground, which was covered in snow. It was apparently winter in this world. Baelfire got to his feet, only to sway and stumble, eventually falling back down.

"Bae?" He heard his father shout. The man reached out for him, taking hold of his arm.

Turning, Baelfire took in his father's face and, despite the fear he felt, compounded with the bitter cold, he smiled. Because it was his Papa's face. He had not seen his Papa's real face in over a year now: old and tired, but kind and full of love. His Papa had been a gentleman before the curse had taken him over.

Baelfire never completely understood why. He knew his Papa had not wanted to lose him to the draft. He knew his Papa wanted to save the children, taken from their homes too young to fight in the Ogre wars. He had done that. He had saved the children and stopped the Ogres. But had it been worth it? His Papa had turned into a monster, had sacrificed his humanity. He had become something more deadly than any Ogre or war, and Baelfire had been ashamed to call him father. Still, he loved the man, and he knew deep down, his Papa was still there. That was why he had made the deal with the Blue Fairy. She had promised him a portal to a land without magic, and his Papa had agreed to go with him so that they could start fresh.

There had been a moment, as they went through the portal, where it seemed like his Papa would chicken out, and Baelfire had been terrified. But he hadn't, and now Baelfire and Rumpelstiltskin were lying on the freezing ground in the land without magic. Had it been worth it? Absolutely.

"Papa!" Baelfire exclaimed, not really sure why except that he was happy to see the man he remembered.

"Be careful, Bae. We know nothing of where we are."

Baelfire nodded, trying to compose himself as he took in his surroundings. It was hard to make out much, as everything was covered with snow, but he could determine some things. There were a bunch of buildings lined up on either side of the road, or what was probably a road under all the snow. None of the buildings were particularly large in a palace sort of way, but they were all a great deal bigger than the huts from the village. A few of the buildings had smaller, snow-covered structures next to them. Maybe those buildings were where the poor lived.

He looked over at his father again. The man tried to stand, then cried out in pain, "I'd almost forgotten." He whispered, and Bae felt bad for his Papa. Rumpelstiltskin had an old leg injury from the war. He had healed it wit magic, but in a land without magic, it would make sense for the enchantment to be undone.

Before Baelfire could offer his Papa a hand, a gigantic monster came upon them. Rumpelstiltskin cowered in fear, knowing he could not move. Baelfire tried to move him, only to hear him say, "Run, son. Save yourself."

Like that would happen. He would not abandon his Papa now.

But then the monster stopped, and a strangely dressed man got out of it. He approached them cautiously, "You okay there?"

"That monster of yours nearly killed my Papa!" Baelfire said angrily.

"Bae!" Rumpelstiltskin scolded nervously.

"It's okay. She is pretty big, and I'm awfully sorry. See, I didn't think anyone would be out here, what with the weather and all the shops closed. Seemed like the right time to plow. Locals get a notice just in case, but I'm guessing you two aren't from around here." Rumpelstiltskin nodded, "Well if you want to climb up in her, I can give you a ride."

Man and boy stared at the stranger and his beast.

"I'm sure we'll be-" then, Rumpelstiltskin let out a grunt of pain.

Realization dawned on the man's face, "You're hurt! Of course. That's why you didn't move. I thought it was just the snow but … I'll give you a lift to the hospital. We'll get you looked at."

Rumpelstiltskin shook his head, "We don't have any payment."

The stranger laughed, "That's all right. I have some pull there; the missus is one of the higher-ups. Anyway, they're pretty generous around here. Noticed it when I first moved down. What can I say? Some stereotypes are true." He laughed, helping a befuddled Rumpelstiltskin to the seat inside his monster, "Welcome to Minnesota."

 

Emma nodded politely at the woman waving at her as she pulled up to the diner. "Okay, this is getting creepy. That's like the fifth person to wave to me just since we left the gas station."

"So?" Neal asked, examining the street.

"I don't know. Don't you think it's a little off? Jamie seemed normal enough, but there's this super-friendly vibe I get that's-"

"This from a girl who spent her teen years in Minnesota."

Emma sighed, shaking her head, "This is different. It's like I'm having déjà vu of something that hasn't happened yet, but then it will happen, there'll be this moment, and I'll know why I feel so weirded-out right now."

Neal shook his head. It was strange. Emma knew that he knew what she was talking about, that he could feel it too, but for some reason, he was pretending to be completely comfortable.

She remembered the look on his face when they had been talking to Jamie; Emma had known Neal for half her life now, and she had never seen him look at a girl like that. What did it mean? Maybe she shouldn't have stopped for gas in a town that wasn't even on the map.

"This is the place." Jamie explained, motioning to the little diner with the words "Granny's" printed clearly over the entryway.

"Thanks," Emma said as she ushered Henry out of the car and up the steps. Neal walked in front of them, and her father-in-law brought up the rear.

When they came into the shop, every person at every table turned to stare at them, "We don't get visitors a lot." Jamie whispered, "I wouldn't worried though. This town is probably the nicest place you'll ever visit. That's why nobody ever leaves." The last sentence made a chill go up Emma's spine, but she tried not to show it.

"Um, hi." She said, approaching the kindly-looking elderly woman, "Can we have two hot chocolates with cinnamon, two black coffees, three grilled cheeses, and a Caesar salad."

"Coming right up." The woman said with a kind nod, "Sit anywhere you like."

For the sake of her father-in-law, Emma picked a table nearest the door. The four of them sat down. There was a flier on each seat. Emma picked hers up, taking a look at it. "Vote Mayor Mills?" She read allowed curiously.

"It's time to re-elect our mayor," Jamie explained.

Emma examined the picture. She had to admit, it was good publicity. The candidate practically glowed.

"So, who is running against her?"

Jamie looked at Emma, seemingly confused, "Why would anyone run against her?"

"Well, that's how elections normally work."

Jamie shook her head, "It's just a formality really. Everybody knows that she's the best person for the job. We just have to do this so it's on the books. But she always gets a unanimous vote, so who would want to run against her?"

"Unanimous? Seriously? Every single person in this town votes for her?"

"We know a good thing when we see it. She's our family; she takes care of us." Jamie smiled fondly, and the most bizarre thing was, Emma didn't detect a note of sarcasm or fakeness in the woman's voice or face, "Nothing's more important than having someone to look after you."

Okay. That was a fair statement. Emma could relate to it. She knew how it was when nobody looked after you. Still, there was something majorly fishy going on here. Even the best person in the world would have somebody who hated them, especially if they were a public figure in a position of power. No way this whole town loved their mayor.

"Excuse me?" She asked, tapping a brunette behind her on the shoulder. When the woman turned around, something made Emma pause. She felt like she'd met this woman before, and judging by the look on the woman's face, she felt something too. But then it was gone. Emma had probably imagined it.

"Yes?" The woman asked, her voice kind and angelic. She was probably the wrong choice, as she seemed like the type who wouldn't have a wrong word to say about anyone. Still, she had started out, she might as well finish.

"Sorry to bother you. I was just wondering, are you planning on voting for, well, no, not voting for, she's the only one running, what I mean is, what do you think of the mayor?"

"I think she's wonderful." The woman answered, not even stopping to think about it.

"Okay, wonderful. But, wonderful as what? I mean, is she a wonderful mayor, a wonderful person-?"

"Yes, of course. She's a wonderful mayor, a wonderful person, and a wonderful sister."

Oops. "Sister, as in … you're the mayor's sister?" The woman nodded, "Um, never mind."

Emma started to turn around when she heard the woman speak up, "You must be new around here. I'm Mary Margret."

"Emma," Emma said, taking the woman's hand. Once again, she had the feeling that she knew this woman from somewhere.

"I have to get going, but I'm sure I'll see you around. Welcome to Storybrooke."

"Thank you," Emma called out. She turned to see Neal gazing at her with a knowing smile, "Shut up."

 

"Hello, sweetheart," Granny said pleasantly into the mouthpiece.

"Hello, Granny. How are you today?" The proud accented voice responded with fake affection.

"I'm lovely dear, and yourself?"

"Lovely."

"Well, I thought you'd want to know, there are four newcomers in my diner. I've never seen them in town before."

There was a pause, "Are you sure?"

"I'm positive."

"Thank you, Granny. You are so good to me."

"My pleasure child. Good day to you." There was no answer on the other line. Clearly, the person Granny was talking to had hung up.

 

"Look, I'm sorry about earlier."

Neal turned. He had been standing in line for the bathroom and hadn't noticed Jamie come up behind him. Shrugging, he offered her a small smile, "What's to be sorry about?"

"I shouldn't have accused you of hitting on me, especially not with your son right there. If I'd seen him, I wouldn't have."

"You may not believe me, but I swear, I really wasn't. It was just, well, you remind me of somebody that I haven't seen for a long time, someone I never thought I'd see again."

"Can I ask who?"

Normally, Neal wouldn't have answered. He'd learned to be cagey over the past couple of decades. Then, somehow, he felt the words coming out of his mouth as though it was the most natural thing in the world, "My mom."

Jamie gave him a sad smile, "I lost my mum too, and my dad for that matter." She looked off past him for a moment, and he was sure that she wasn't in the diner anymore. Then she shook her head, "Sorry, I don't usually share that much with strangers."

Neal nodded, "Well, it's been that kind of day."

Jamie shot him a grateful smile for a millisecond, then glanced down at her shoes and began to shift from one to the other, "Right. Well, I need to get going. Papers to grade and all that."

"You're a teacher?"

"Principal, actually, but I help out sometimes. Everybody needs to be looked after or else everything falls apart."

Neal nodded, "Well, it was nice to meet you."

 

There was something about this town. Henry couldn't put his finger on what it was, but he could feel it almost instantly. His parents were different here, and his grandfather. Everybody was different. His mom was more relaxed than he'd seen her in a long time, and his dad was surprisingly tense. And his grandfather, well, Henry couldn't figure that part out at all. The man seemed to have come alive somehow, but at the same time, he was the same loving grandfather that Henry had always known.

His mom was eating breakfast and making friends, or causing trouble, which for her was usually a 50/50 chance. His father was waiting for the bathroom, and his grandfather seemed to have disappeared. So, Henry decided to venture out and explore. He waited until his mother was reasonably distracted and snuck out the back of the diner. He was surprised at what he saw: a woman in a shawl digging through the diner's dumpster.

She seemed to notice him staring because she froze. She turned to face him then, her eyes wide with fear. Then, she took him in, looking him up and down. She squinted as if unsure of what she was seeing. Then, her cheeks grew a little red.

"I'm sorry." Henry said, "I didn't mean to startle you."

The woman nodded, "That's all right." She said in an accent that sounded Australian to Henry.

"Do you need help?" Henry asked.

The woman flinched back like a wounded animal. "I'm ten. I won't hurt you." Henry said, smiling at her gently.

"I know. I just … it's a little embarrassing." Henry nodded, unsure what to say. "I'm not looking for food or anything, just so you know. I was actually, well, it'll sound silly."

Henry shook his head, "You can trust me."

She looked at him for a minute, squinting again. Her nose twitched a little, and she appeared to be biting the inside of her lip. Then, she stopped, nodding to herself, "All right. I was looking for a book that I lost."

"A book?"

"Yes. I love books and this one … well, this one's special."

"What do you mean?"

The woman shook her head, "Have you ever known something, and not known really how you know? That's what it's like with this book. I've read every book I could ever get my hands on. They're the quiet friends that make me feel safe in the night. This one though, I've never read. It's a lovely book, a beautiful cover. Aside from that, it's the only thing I actually own, and I've had it for as long as I can remember. For some reason though, some reason I don't understand, I've never actually read it. But it's missing now, and I just know I have to find it."

Henry nodded, "I can help you look."

The woman blushed, then smiled, "That would be very kind of you. Thank you."

So Henry reached into the dumpster and pulled up a book.

The woman's eyes widened, "That's amazing. How did you find it so fast?"

Henry shrugged, "I'm not sure. Anyway, here."

He held the book out to her. Oddly enough, it did not smell like it had been sitting in a dumpster. It was perfectly clean.

The woman reached for the book but didn't take it. After a second, she drew her hand back, "I think you should hold onto it."

"What? But you said-"

"I've been searching this dumpster for the past hour, tearing it apart, and you find the book in less than a second. Seems to me there has to be a reason for that." She offered him a shaky smile, "I think you were meant to find it."

Henry raised his left eyebrow at her, "Really?"

"Henry? Are you out here?" Henry turned at his grandfather's voice.

"I'll be right there." He called back, turning back to the woman. She was gone through, and she had left the book with Henry. This really was a strange town.

 

"Well, I guess we should get back on the road," Emma said once Neal came back to the table.

"Where's Henry?"

Emma turned to the seat next to her. Then, she began to panic, "Oh my god!"

"I'll go find the lad." Her father-in-law said. He headed over to counter and began talking to the waitress. He was probably asking her if she had seen where Henry went. Emma watched the exchange and then turned back to Neal.

"Wandering off in a strange town? What is he thinking?"

"Emma, calm down." Neal said, putting his hand on hers, "I'm sure he's fine."

Emma sighed, "I guess I'm just a little on edge. This place is …" She didn't know what to follow that with. It was nice and warm, but also kind of creepy. "I'll just be happy once we're all in the car." Neal nodded. He gave Emma a small smile, but she could tell his heart wasn't in it, "What? What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I just … I thought maybe we could stay the night or something."

"What?"

"Here he is." Mr. Stiltskin said from behind them, "No harm done."

"Henry, what is wrong with you?"

"You guys were all distracted. Besides, I'm fine." Emma did not appreciate it when Henry rolled his eyes at her. Generally, she tried to be a pretty cool and casual parent, but that didn't mean he could disrespect her when she was worried about him. True, he did seem to be fine, though Emma noticed that he had something tucked under his arm.

"What are you holding?"

"A book. Why?"

"Where'd it come from?"

"This woman … " Henry started. Then, he paused. Emma waited, and after a second, he continued, "It was a gift." He finally said.

"A gift? From who?"

"Just some woman."

"Henry!"

"What, it's not like it's candy or something, and she didn't want anything in return, she was just being nice. If you hadn't trusted a nice gesture from a stranger, you and dad wouldn't have even known each other. I wouldn't even be here!"

Emma sighed. She hated when he pulled that card; sometimes she thought maybe she shouldn't have told him how she and Neal had met. However, they were his parents and he deserved to know, and it wasn't as though she shared every detail.

"Let's just go to the car-"

"Why can't we stay here?" Henry asked. Emma's eyebrows shot up. She looked at Henry and then glanced back at Neal. Neal looked surprised too, so at least she knew it wasn't a conspiracy. "We were just driving aimlessly; we didn't have a destination. And I like it here!"

Emma dropped down to Henry's level and said quietly, "Henry, don't you think this place is a little-?"

"I think it's like a mystery. It's exactly what our family needs right now. We're supposed to stay here; I can feel it."

"Henry-"

"Pleeeeeeaaaaaseeee!" Damn it. The babyface. He was pulling out the big guns. Those wide hazel eyes were hard to say no to.

Emma let out a sort of grunt, and then sighed, "I guess we should get a room."

Henry smiled widely. Neal smiled as well, though his smile was more cautious. Emma couldn't read her father-in-law's expression at all, but he was always a bit guarded when it came to showing his emotions. There was, however, an identifiable spark of curiosity in his eyes.

 

It was strange that he wanted to stay. Neal knew that. If there was even a hint of magic anywhere, he should be the first to usher his Papa and him away from it. Magic was nothing but trouble.

But Jamie P. Jones looked like his mother and he needed to know why. He knew it was bizarre, even impossible for her to be related to his mother in any way. Except that nothing was impossible, he had learned that long ago.

The Stiltskins entered a little B&B, also run by Granny, and got squared away. They needed a room on the ground floor as the building was old and did not have an elevator, but they had dealt with that before. It didn't take long to get everything set-up; in mere minutes, Henry and Mr. Stiltskin were heading down the hall to check out the room.

"You sure you're okay with this? The staying?"

Emma nodded. Neal could tell she was still a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, but he also knew that she wouldn't have agreed if some part of her didn't want to. Emma never did anything she didn't really want to do. That was who she was. That was one of the reason's he loved her.

"Hello." A British voice said behind them. It wasn't Jamie, but another woman. She was tall, with long red hair, and she seemed to be sizing up the Stiltskins. "I hope you don't mind me dropping in to greet you, but I just adore newcomers, and we don't get many." Aside from being British, her voice was girlish and a little squeaky. She seemed nice, but it was like she was trying too hard.

"You're the mayor, right?" Emma asked. Neal looked at her, surprised. How did she know that? "I saw the fliers. I guess the elections are coming up."

"They were today, actually."

"And of course, you won." Emma's tone seemed to have gotten a little harder. It was subtle, and Neal wondered if the mayor noticed.

"Well, I was running unopposed." The mayor responded, her kindness and her smile seeming faker by the minute.

"Congratulations then," Emma said, though Neal could tell she didn't really mean it.

"Thank you. And welcome to Storybrooke. I hope you enjoy my little town."

Emma nodded, and she and Neal watched the woman walk away.

 

It had taken a while, but everybody was finally asleep. Henry was on his bed, thinking on the day's events. He knew he probably should have told his mother the whole story about the woman, but he could just picture her reaction. 'You went in the dumpster?' 'She said what to you?' 'Who was this woman?'

If he were being honest, it was more than that though. From the second he had touched the book, Henry had known there was something special about it. What the woman was saying about him being meant to find it sounded so crazy, and yet …

There was something about this town, and something about this book, that was special. Henry could feel it. He didn't know how, but he knew that this book was important. He knew it was meant for him. So, after he was sure everybody was asleep, he took it out, and began to read.

Chapter Text

Snow White and Prince Charming stood in the war room with the Blue Fairy. She was their last hope. They had exhausted all other options and Zelena's threats still hovered over their heads.

"She promised my child would never take the throne."

"She was angry. We don't know-"

"David, this woman pretended to be my dead mother in order to trick me into poisoning myself. You have no idea what she's capable of-"

"Relax." The Blue Fairy said, "Fighting won't solve anything, and I have an idea."

"Really Blue?"

The fairy nodded, "I've done some reconnaissance, and you're right. Zelena is not playing around. But there is a place you can hide your child."

"We're not sending her to Neverland. We've had enough dealings with that, and our child is not-"

"I'm not talking about Neverland. I'm talking about a land without magic. There is a magical tree that can be sculpted into a vessel, and if you put her in it, it will send her to this land. No curse can touch her there."

"But," Snow stammered, "But what about us? When will we see our child again?"

Blue sighed, "There is more to the curse than just your child. We are all in danger, but if she can escape it, she may be able to save us."

"How?"

Blue shook her head, "I'm not sure. By becoming the savior I believe. The signs aren't clear-. "

"Well, you better make them clear!" David said, rising angrily. "Because if you think we'll just abandon our child-"

Snow stopped him, placing her hand on his to calm him down, "No David, she's right." David looked at Snow, shocked, "This is the only way. For Emma. For all of us."

David's eyes widened, "Emma? It's a girl then?"

Snow nodded, "I hope you don't mind me picking out a name." she said, tears in her eyes, "It's just … she feels like an Emma."

David nodded tears in his eyes as well. He turned back to the fairy, "All right, Blue, how do we do this."

"Well, we'll need Geppetto." And so the entire Kingdom got to work preparing the wardrobe. They knew they needed to get it done before Snow gave birth because the tree's magic could only transport one. If Snow no longer carried the child, all would be lost.

But then, the curse came, and Snow's water broke. She was in labor. Desperately, she tried to keep the baby in, but she couldn't. Doc delivered a healthy baby girl, crying.

David looked down at his daughter and placed her in the Emma blanket that Snow had sewn for her. There was only one option now, and it broke his heart to do it, but there was no other choice. He raced to The Wardrobe, fighting off flying monkeys as he went. He placed his baby in the wardrobe and she disappeared. Then in a swirl like a twister, Zelena, The Wicked Witch, stood before him.

She reached down to heal his injuries, "I can't very well have you dying." She said in her thick British accent, "What fun would that be?" she cackled as the dark curse enveloped all of the Enchanted Forest  and brought them to the land without magic. The End.

 

Henry stared at the words in shock. The End? No, it couldn't be the end. He had stayed up all night reading the book, and now it was over, and it wasn't actually over. How could it end like that?

Henry knew all the tales in the book, but none of them were like the Disney stories he remembered. Somehow, he knew there was a reason. These were the true stories. True? He thought, that's crazy.

But then he thought of his mother, Emma.

He thought of her name and the baby blanket that he had seen a million times.

He thought of how she had just appeared on the side of the road that one day.

He thought of how strange this town was, and the magic he felt when he held this book.

Magic?

Henry had always been a practical kid. He couldn't suddenly decide to believe in fairy tales. But something told him to hide the book, to trust it, and to keep his eyes and ears open for this crazy feeling that was forming in his head.

 

Zelena was angry as she listened to the message on her phone. It was that munchkin or dwarf or whatever he was, calling to say he had gotten a little too wasted at the celebration last night to congratulate her on her win, but he wanted to just the same. But the celebration wasn't last night. It couldn't be. It was tonight.

Today was the election.

It was always the election.

Every day, the residents of Storybrooke voted her Mayor and embraced her with love and family. The election had to be today.

There was a knock on her door, "Sweetheart, are you awake?" She heard the bloody Sheppard say, "It wouldn't look good for the new mayor to be sleeping in on her first day." He chuckled. The ridiculous man thought he was funny. What a waste. But Zelena laughed at his little joke as she rose from the bed.

"I'm awake." She said. And she had been for the past half hour. She had panicked when she heard the little man leaving his message, and had sat up to listen to it over and over, hoping that is would somehow disappear from existence.

David came in, smiling. "I already got the kids ready for school. I can drive them in if you like."

Zelena smiled. The children were tiny like munchkins, but they adored her, so she liked them. Everybody adored her here. That was the point.

"No, I'll give them a ride. I have to go to town anyway."

"Yes, it's time to start your new term. Frankly, I can't wait until the next election. If I can convince people to let you rest, you'll be home all the time, and we'd never have to leave this bed."

He kissed her, and Zelena kissed him back. For all Zelena had against the Sheppard, he certainly could kiss. Being married to him would have been a pain if he couldn't, so she was grateful for that. They continued to kiss until it was time to drive the kids to school.

 

"Ow!" Emma said, stubbing her toe on one of the poorly placed decorative monkeys at the inn.

Neal woke up to see her with wincing as she struggled to get her pants on. He couldn't help but laugh.

"Not liking the accommodations?" He asked.

Emma started, and turned to him, "Sorry for waking you."

"But …" he waited for it.

"But what's with all the freakin' monkeys? Sock monkeys, rubber monkeys, wooden monkeys, talk about tacky. Is this Storybrooke or Monkeytown?"

Neal shrugged, getting up, "I don't know. Do we get to do monkey business in monkey town?"

He approached he wife and planted a kiss on her lips, "Good morning." He said.

Emma smiled in spite of herself, "Good morning, Crazy."

Neal rolled his eyes, "Well, you've called me worse."

 

"Bastard!"

"Emma." The older man said calmly, "We don't use that kind of language."

Emma spits at him, and then turned back to Neal, "You tricked me."

"How did I do that?"

"How come I'm waking up in a house I don't recognize?"

Emma had woken up feeling, frankly, better than she had in a while, though she would never admit it. She remembered meeting the boy and him talking her into going to the drug store. They sat talking for a while, and he bought her some ginger ale for her stomach, plus some crackers for later. She was planning to run off once she had the food, but she had enjoyed talking to him. He was funny and weird. They had sat up all night in the drug store. Now it was morning and she was on the couch near a kitchen where the boy and an older man sat looking at her. She felt like she'd walked into a trap.

"Emma-" The older man tried again.

"I never told you my name!" She yelled at him.

"I told him." Neal said, "Just calm down."

"Let me out of here!" Emma said, running for the door.

Neal grabbed her arm, "Bae." Said the gentle voice of the man.

Emma turned, "What?"

Neal dropped her arm and shrugged, shooting a strange look at his father, "It's a nickname." He muttered,

The old man shook his head apologetically, "Neal, if the girl wants to leave, that's her right."

"But I don't want her running off thinking we did something wrong. We're good people. We're not cowards or monsters, and I never want anyone to think-"

"I don't care who you are, but I do care where I am, so if you really don't want to hurt me, tell me-"

"You fell asleep." Neal started, "at the drug store. My Papa came to pick me up and I told him you were homeless and alone."

"I never said I was homeless…" Emma said, looking down. Was it that obvious?

"Well, it was clear you didn't have a place to stay. A year ago, we had nowhere to stay, and now we're taken care of. We just wanted to make sure-"

"You are the weirdest, creepiest boy I have ever met. You talk weird and you act like you're in some fictional world where people are nice and actually help each other out."

"Then how come you didn't just run off when I bought you your crackers and ginger ale?" Neal asked.

Emma didn't answer, and she noticed a smirk form on the boys face. She wanted to punch him, mostly because she knew he was right. She had let her guard down. When would she learn? "I was stupid." She said, looking down at her shoes. She could see from the corner of her eyes that he was approaching her again. Her brain told her to bolt, but her gut told her to stay put.

"You were having fun. We were having fun." Neal sighed, putting a hand on her shoulder, "I know you have no place to go. Why don't you just stay with us for a while? We can look after you."

Emma looked up at him, shocked, "That's crazy. You're crazy."

"I'm not crazy. I'm Neal, and I want to be your friend. We want to help you if you let us."

Emma felt herself smiling, but then she drew back, remembering herself, "You can't just do this. There are legal things. You would have to adopt me, and you don't-"

"Then that's what we'll do." The man said, standing from his chair. Emma was surprised to see him grab a cane to steady himself. He walked over to her, offering her his free hand, "This is a small town, and we know a few people who helped us get on our feet when we first arrived here. One of them happens to be a lawyer. It might take some time, but if you would like it, Emma, I'd be happy to call you my daughter." Emma didn't say anything, she just watched the man warily. "My name is Jack Stiltskin." He said, still holding his hand out. She shook it, and then let go. The man smiled at her, and she gave him a smile in return, "Now, lawyers and things can wait for the afternoon. Why don't we have a spot of breakfast?"

Emma nodded and followed him to the kitchen. Neal trailed behind her, "So, you're going to join the crazy family, huh?"

Emma thought of all the other families she had tried to be a part of in her years in the foster system and smiled, "I could do worse."

 

"Let's go get breakfast!" Henry said, running in, interrupting his parents. He looked over at them kissing, "Ew! You guys are being so gross."

Emma laughed, "There are worse things kid." She said, ruffling his hair. "So, you said something about breakfast?"

Henry nodded, "Yeah, let's go to the diner."

"We went there last night," Emma said.

"Duh, but this is a small town. They probably only have one place for breakfast."

Emma laughed, "Maybe. I guess it is right here. Go wake your grandfather, we'll be there in a minute."

"Let me guess, the minute I leave, you two are going to get all gross again."

Neal smiled at Emma, "He gets his deductive reasoning skills from me."

Emma laughed, "Yeah right."

 

Rumpelstiltskin had been tossing and turning all night. He just couldn't get to sleep. Deep down, he knew why. "Dark Ones don't need sleep," Zoso's voice had said. But he wasn't The Dark One anymore. The Dark One only existed in a land of magic, and he was in a land without magic. He had been in a land without magic for years. That had been the whole point.

He didn't have magic here. He knew that. He had tried, because something about this town felt so magical, and he needed to know. But there was nothing. He still needed his stick to walk. Yet, whenever he closed his eyes, he saw Zoso. There were whispers, quieter than they were in the Enchanted Forest, but there nonetheless. And he was restless. He hadn't gotten a wink of sleep all night. What was it about this place? Or was it all in his head. Was he just afraid of it coming back, or was it coming back? And if it was, how was it, and why not all the way? What was going on?

"Grandpa." A sweet voice said. Henry's voice had always been sweet to Rumpelstiltskin. He never thought he could love anyone as much as he loved his son, and then Emma and given birth to his grandson. They were a family now. Magic couldn't ruin that. But he needed to know what was going on with this town. There had to be a way to protect against whatever it was, because if the darkness could reach him here, then god help them all.

"I'm up, Henry. I'm coming."

 

"Good morning Madam Mayor." Zelena's manservant said. Okay, technically, he was her assistant, but the term manservant better fit how he saw her."

"Good morning Mr. Scathe."

She saw the hurt in his eyes and fought back a smile. He always tried to get her to call him by his first name. Perhaps he thought it would make their relationship more intimate. That would never happen.

"Would you like me to go over your morning itinerary with you before or after breakfast?" He asked.

Interesting question. Ordinarily, Zelena wanted the food first, because she was hungry, and she knew her morning itinerary by heart. But today was different.

"Before we get into that." She said, smiling sweetly at him, "There's something I want to know about." He stood up straight and stared at her with big, excited eyes. The gleam was hilarious. She half expected him to start panting like an overexcited puppy. Better still, she could just picture him drooling. He thought he was subtle, but she had made him feel that way about her, so she knew exactly what it looked like. Lovesick fool. Served him right for getting in her way as he once had. "There's a new family in town. A blonde woman named Emma, an unattractive man with facial hair named Neal, and an old man with a walking stick. I need to know everything there is to know about them. Who they are, why they are here, and so on."

Mr. Scathe nodded vigorously. "I'll take care of it," he said.

She smiled and placed her hand on his elbow, making him twitch like a bolt of electricity had hit him. "I do so appreciate all you do for me." She said sweetly. He nodded again, this time a little shakier. He always got shaky when she was so cruel as to touch him, "I couldn't have won without your aid." She said, continuing, "And, of course, the help of your lovely wife." She added, removing her hand and watching as his face fell. She felt like squealing with glee. This knife was so very fun to twist. "How is she? I'm sure you two had a lovely celebration last night."

"I'm sorry you wouldn't let us celebrate with you." He said, and Zelena continued to laugh in her head at the man's obvious adoration.

"Oh, no, your time with your wife is special. I would never want to do anything to hurt such a lovely marriage." He nodded, this time halfheartedly. "Now, perhaps we can have that breakfast. I'm famished, and I'm sure your lusting for something delicious as well." Mr. Scathe gulped and nodded, "I think I'd like something a bit differently. Get me whatever the special is, and of course, treat yourself to whatever looks appetizing to you Mr. Scathe."

He nodded again and was out the door. Once he was out of earshot, Zelena finally burst into giggles. She had needed that.

 

Emma kept looking up every time she heard the ding of the bell on the diner door. This time, it was a skinny looking man with short hair and professional attire. He ordered two of the day's special in a cockney accent, and Granny treated him the way one treats a famous or powerful customer. He was in and out pretty fast. Even though Emma knew the bell was just dinging because he was leaving, she still had to look.

"You okay?" Neal asked.

Emma nodded, sipping her cocoa. "So, what do you want for breakfast?"

"Pretty much what I told granny when we ordered twenty minutes ago."

Emma blushed, "Well, that's the price of slow service, I guess. It's been so long, I forgot."

"Emma," Neal said, reaching across the table to take her hands, "What's going on?"

Emma shook her head, not knowing how to answer. "I guess I'm just curious about this town. The people …" a face formed in her head. The woman she had met for a millisecond yesterday. There was something so familiar about the mayor's sister, and it was bugging Emma. Plus, the woman was so nice, and the mayor seemed so … not. She couldn't help but wonder how that happened. But beyond any of that was the desire somewhere inside her for the woman to come into the diner and talk to her. It was silly. She knew it was silly. Still…

"I know what you mean," Neal said, surprising Emma. She pulled back her hands, cocking an eyebrow at him, "There are some interesting people here. The faces …" he paused too, and Emma couldn't help but wonder if he had met someone that gave him that same familiar feeling. Neal had always understood her. Even though their experiences were vastly different, there was always something similar in the way they were, and Neal always seemed to get where she was coming from. "It's strange, isn't it? Like we're meant to be here?" Neal nodded.

Emma didn't used to believe in fate. But then she had randomly stumbled on the family she had always wanted. In that family, she had found the love of her life, and then they had made Henry. Emma couldn't claim to be the skeptic she was at thirteen. Yeah, life sometimes sucked, and sometimes everything and everyone seemed to be working against you, but there were other moments when it was hard to believe there wasn't some kind of divine intervention involved. How else could certain things have happened to a discarded child like her? Emma had found love. She had found the love of a father, a man, and a child. There was no other explanation than something else out there, and as much as Neal hated the word magic (even magic shows, which he refused to take Henry to no matter what) she couldn't really think of anything else to call it.

 

"Emma!" Neal yelled as he banged on her door. Emma stood with her back to the door, trying to drown out his voice. She was such an idiot! How could she screw up a good thing so completely like this? What was wrong with her?

She flung herself on the bed, trying so hard not to cry. This was supposed to be a special day and she had ruined it, and her life, in one impulsive moment.

She heard the doorknob, and her jaw dropped as Neal came into her room. He had never barged in on her. She didn't even bother locking anymore, because she knew he and his father were gentlemen. They never came in without permission.

"Get out!" She screamed, trying to channel the shock and anger in order to block out everything else she had been feeling.

"Emma." He said approaching her. She backed up. "We need to talk about-"

"Get out, Neal." She managed a growl and Neal looked hurt. That hurt Emma's heart. She hated seeing Neal's eye clouded with hurt. She hated that she had hurt him. This was still all her fault. Se should apologize. Instead, she said, "Since when do you just barge into my room?"

"You wouldn't let me in!" Neal countered.

"But you've never-"

"Things have changed." He said, slowly.

Emma shook her head, tears falling down her cheeks. "Nothing has changed," she said, sitting back on the bed, avoiding Neal's gaze. A moment later, she felt the bed cave a little. Neal had taken a seat next to her.

"It's okay." He said, "It's okay if you're not ready for anything to change. We can wait, take our time with this."

Emma's jaw dropped, and she looked over at him. He was smiling at her. There was such gentleness in his eyes. It made Emma swoon. "It's not …" she swallowed, trying again, "It's not that I don't want … it's just, we've always been like brother and sister and-"

Neal chuckled, "Emma, I've never seen you as a sister."

"You … you haven't?" Emma said, feeling the butterflies again.

Neal shook his head, "I thought you knew that." Emma shook her head, "My dad adopted you, and you are my best friend, but if you were my sister, then I would never have let you kiss me, even if it is your birthday."

Emma blushed, recalling the moment of bliss. They had been at her seventeenth birthday party, and Neal's gift had been so sweet, and Emma hadn't been able to help herself. And for a moment, all she felt was him. Of course, then she realized what he was doing, panicked, and ran off. But if what he was saying was true …

"As a matter of fact, birthday girl, if you'd let me, I'd very much like to try it again."

Emma nodded, unable to speak. She felt Neal lean in, and then, she felt something she had never felt before. All she could think was, this must be magic.

 

Aria Scathe carefully made her way into the dumpster behind the diner, hoping for scraps. She hadn't been completely honest with the boy about rummaging for food. Yesterday, she wasn't, but the concept wasn't unusual for her. They never had any food at home. Her husband was the stingiest man she had ever met. He ate the food provided for him at work, so he was fine, and despite how much he made, he would not have her spending his hard earned money on anything. "Find a way to feed yourself. It's not my business." He would say. She could steal food, but she had been caught doing that once at Granny's and was scared to do it again. Her husband had taught her the value of fear. She never could stand up to him, or anyone else really. She wished to be brave like the heroes in her books, but it just wasn't in her nature.

Except for yesterday.

Yesterday, she had given a book to a little boy, and while that in and of itself was not brave or heroic, something told her that it was important and potentially dangerous.

She laughed at herself as she looked through the trash for something edible. "Listen to me. Making up stories like that in my head. I'm certainly no hero." Shaking her head, Aria hoisted herself out of the trash. Looks like she would have to check the one behind The Rabbit Hole. It was a seedy bar, and she liked to avoid it, but she needed to eat. The trash in Granny's wouldn't be discarded into the dumpster until 3:00, and she did not want to wait around to get caught. It wouldn't make Jack look very good to have his wife sifting through garbage, and making Jack mad was never a smart idea.

 

"I'm so sorry that I'm running late today. If you could just wait another-..." Emma stopped. She had been coming out of the bathroom when she heard the voice talking hurriedly into the payphone. (Payphone? Really? How behind the times was this town?) "Okay, I understand." The voice said dejectedly, "Thank you for your time." Emma heard the woman hang up the phone, and then she was face-to-face with the woman from yesterday. Her mouth formed an O and her cheeks quickly went pink, which made her look a little like a cartoon character, though Emma couldn't place which one.

"Sorry." Emma said quickly, trying to defuse the situation, "I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I was just coming out of the restroom."

"It's okay." The woman said, "I mean, I wasn't whispering or anything. I'm just a little embarrassed is all?"

"Yeah, it sounded …" Emma trailed off, not really sure what awkward situation she had stumbled on.

"I was supposed to interview. For a job." She clarified, "Selena set it up for me. She's been trying to help me out, and now I screwed up and overslept and missed the interview."

Emma nodded, "That sucks."

"I don't know what went wrong. I'm usually very on top of these sorts of things, but we had the party last night to celebrate her win, and then this morning I just felt … strange." She got a sort of far-off look in her eye for a minute, then shook her head, "Anyway, you don't want to hear about my problems."

"That's okay. Everybody needs someone to vent to."

"I have Selena. She loves listening to my problems; she's the best sister."

Emma just nodded. Her impression of The Mayor hadn't been so positive, but this woman seemed to truly believe that she was a good woman. And it was her sister. Anyway, maybe she was wrong. She didn't really know Selena Mills, after all.

"Well, if you ever need a second ear." She shrugged.

"Oh, are you staying here."

Oops. It had sounded like that, hadn't it? "Not permanently." Emma said slowly, "Just, you know, for a little bit. We're on vacation."

The woman nodded, "Storybrooke's a nice place to get away to."

"So, um, it was Mary, right?"

"Mary Margret." The woman corrected.

"Like the actress."

"That's Mary Martin. Or Ann Margaret."

Emma laughed, "Since you knew that right away, I'm guessing you get that a lot."

Mary Margret shook her head, "I just like musicals. When I was younger I wanted to go to New York and become a singer, but I didn't really have the talent for it." She looked down, and Emma couldn't tell if she was sad or embarrassed, "It's silly, I know."

"I did some acting in college. Never got the lead, but it was fun."

"It's great, isn't it? Pretending to be someone else. It's like getting to live in a Fairy Tale."

"Well, I don't know about that. I mean, "Les Mis" doesn't exactly have a Fairy Tale ending."

"Still."

The two woman were quiet for a minute, then Emma said, "Listen, I know that this doesn't exactly fix your day, but if you want to join us for breakfast-"

"I should really get going. Selena's going to want to know what happened. It was nice talking to you though."

Emma nodded, "You too."

 

"Bae, we need to talk," Rumple whispered.

His son's head shot up; his father rarely called him that these days. "What's wrong?" He asked immediately.

"This town. This town is wrong. There is something very wrong here."

"How wrong?" Neal desperately wanted this to be nothing. He didn't want to have to leave. Henry liked it here. Even Emma was coming around. And Jamie … he had to get to know her. He had to know if she was connected to his mother.

"Magically wrong."

"You said there was no magic here."

"It's not magic exactly, but …" His father trailed off.

"But what?"

Before he could answer, Emma returned to the table.

"Where's Henry?" was the first thing she asked.

Neal looked around, "I thought he was with you."

 

Henry was able to sneak around back just in time to see the woman from yesterday sneaking off. She clearly did not want to be seen, and curious as he was, he did not want to upset her. Still, he couldn't help but notice the bruise on her cheek or the slight limp while she walked.

She was taking back ways, trying to stay to the shadows, which actually made her easier to follow. So Henry did. What else was he to do? He needed answers, and it was her book after all.

He lost her when she got in her car and floored the thing. Determined as he was, Henry knew he couldn't outrun a car. He stared at the ground, disappointed.

"Henry?" He looked up and smiled as Jamie.

"Hi." He said, pleasantly.

Jamie, however, was not smiling. She was looking down at him disapprovingly. "Shouldn't you be with your parents?"

"I just snuck off for a minute." He said, trying to be cute and charming like he was with his parents sometimes. Jamie was having none of it.

"Henry, do you know what I do? I'm a principal. That means I know all the tricks that cute little boys use to get their way. I'm immune to cuteness. There's a right way of things, and little boys belong with their families. You don't want them worrying about you, I'm sure."

Henry nodded, knowing he'd been called out. "I don't think they noticed yet. If I sneak back, they'll never have to worry."

Jamie shook her head, "You're a mischievous one, aren't you? No, I think your parents need to know you've been running off in order to stop it happening again."

Henry nodded and followed Jamie back into the diner. His mother hugged him, then scolded him, and then she, his father, and Jamie all started to talk about him while his grandfather sat watching and drinking chamomile tea. It was strange. Grandpa Stiltskin had seemed so on edge today. Maybe it was connected to the curse in his book. Maybe he was sensing what Henry had sensed. Should he confide in his Grandfather, Henry wondered.

"Okay kid, here's what is going to happen. You are not going to wander off again because if you do, we are leaving this town and going straight home. We clear?"

Henry nodded, "This place just has so many mysteries."

"It's a lazy little town." His mom said though he couldn't tell if she really believed what she was saying.

"What if it's not? What if it's more than that?"

"What are you talking about?" Emma asked. Henry didn't say anything. "Henry. I asked you a question."

Henry nodded, "I just … don't want to leave." He finally said.

"We won't kid. Just stop running off, okay?"

Henry nodded again. He would have to think of other ways to investigate the mysteries of this town, and of his book. And he would. But for now, he sat down and finished breakfast with his family.

Chapter Text

Breaking and entering wasn't something Jack usually did. In fact, he tended to be a stickler for the rules. But this was different. This was for the mayor. He would do anything for her. Just thinking of her made him … well, it didn't matter. He cursed his luck every day, being married to a dim little bookworm whose hair was decidedly not red. However, now was not the time to dwell on his misfortune. Now was the time to find information on the new family in Storybrooke. According to Granny's log, they had signed in under the name Stilstkin. That was something he could use to track down information about them. Maybe he could … he stopped. There was a noise.

"Oi. Whose there?" Stupid question when you're the one breaking and entering. But bravado seemed like the thing to go for right now. Besides, the mayor would back him. Whoever was roaming around Granny's back office wouldn't have his pull. A little boy stepped out into the light, "Who are you?"

"Who are you?" The boy asked.

"I asked first. Hey, what's that you're holding?" The boy was holding a book. He was clutching it tightly, actually.

There was something familiar about the book, especially the illustration on the page it was opened to. A man and woman riding nobly on horses while another man floundered on the back of the man's horse.

He stepped forward, reaching for the book, but the boy stepped back. "Hey, easy now. I ain't gonna hurt'cha."

"I don't know that. You're a stranger."

"Right. Smart boy, stranger danger and all that. But see, I'm a close personal friend of the mayor, I am. So you can trust me."

The boy shook his head, "Why should that mean I can trust you?"

"Well because … it just does, see?"

Jack inched forward again. This time, the boy knocked something over. Next thing Jack knew, the boy was behind him. He ran out of the room and up the stairs. Jack swore.

 

Sixteen. I'm barely sixteen. I'm a bloody fool. The words echoed in Will's head, but they weren't enough for him to turn back. After all, what did he have to turn back to? No, Will wasn't stopping. He was going to kill the Sheriff or die trying. Preferably not the latter.

He burst into the Sheriff's home, brandishing his sword. And there he was, sleeping soundly. The bloody Sheriff. Will gathered up his courage and swung his sword.

"I'm afraid that's not me." A voice behind him said. Will turned, startled. Okay. There was the bloody sheriff. It didn't matter. Will knew how to swing a sword. He was about to lunge when an arrow flew past him, knocking something out of the sheriff's hand. A gun! The sheriff was going to pull a gun on him.

"Robin Hood!" The Sheriff yelled.

"The very same." A smug voice behind him said, "I hate to interrupt, but it seems you were about to shoot a friend of mine."

Friend. Well, that was interesting. Will had heard of Robin Hood, of course. Everyone in Nottingham had. But he had never met the man. He certainly couldn't say he knew him enough to call him a friend.

"Always spoiling my fun, aren't you?"

"Well, that's my fun, isn't it? Now, if you don't mind, this boy is coming with me."

Will's eyebrow's shot up, "That is a problem because I planned to try him for attempted murder and have him executed."

"That's not happening. We'll be on our way-"

"Oi! I'm not goin' with you. I came here to kill the bloody sheriff, and I plan to do just that."

"Don't be a fool, Will."

"How do you know me … know what, never mind. Don't matter, all that matter's right now is-"

"He talks too much." Said a voice behind Robin Hood.

"I don't. I mean, sometimes I -" before he could finish, Robin Hood had hoisted him up on his horse. And just like that, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and Will Scarlett were riding off into the sunset with Will kicking and screaming the whole way.

 

Aria was exhausted. She never seemed to sleep right in the corner behind Granny's. Well, of course she didn't. It was a corner outside bed and breakfast. But what other option did she have? Not sleep at all? No, she needed her sleep. She was so tired most of the time. Go to sleep at home? Letting herself be unconscious and vulnerable when her husband came home? No. That was not an option either. She still remembered the last time … the memory was hazy, and that god for that, but it was there. Jack would come home drunk and angry at her for not being who he wanted. She shuddered at the thought. Better to sleep here. Maybe she could even nip some breakfast from the kitchen before anyone came in. She was about to sneak in through the back when she saw Jack coming out the front. That was curious. But she couldn't let him see her. Not here. Not now. She scampered around to the side of the building. There were some windows, but it wasn't as though she knew how to scale a building. She was trapped. All she could do was hope-

"Hey?" She looked up. There, calling her out the window, was the boy who she had given the book to behind the dumpster. "What are you-?"

She put her finger to her lips, urging him to be quiet. He seemed to study her for a moment and then disappeared from the window. And then he was back with, what was he lowering down? Was that rope? It seemed so bizarre, but Aria knew she didn't have a lot of options. Without thinking, she grabbed the rope and started climbing. Next thing she knew, she was making her way through the window into what appeared to be one of the bedrooms in the bed and breakfast.

She landed with a huff. The boy was looking at her, his eyes wide, "Who were you hiding from?"

She shook her head, unsure what to say.

"That's okay. You don't have to tell me. I'm Henry, by the way."

"Well Henry, this is twice you've saved me. I owe you."

Henry beamed. "It was no big deal really. I just ran to the supply closet and got some rope. I was running from someone too."

"Oh? Who?"

"I don't know his name, but he wanted the book and … I didn't want to give it to him."

Aria smiled in spite of herself, "I'm Aria. I know I didn't say before …"

"That's okay. You weren't sure you could trust me."

She shook her head, "It wasn't even that. It's just -"

"Henry?" A voice said from the other side of the door.

"Hide," Henry whispered. Aria didn't have to be told twice. Her life was all about hiding. She headed for the closet.

"Yeah, dad?" Henry called through the door.

"I heard a noise. Woke your mother up too. Everything okay in there?"

"It's fine. I was just reading … and my book fell."

"All right, well, it's pretty late, so how about you put the book away for now, huh?"

"Sure thing."

Aria waited, listening to the conversation between father and son. It made her heart ache. She'd always wanted children herself, but Jack …

"Coast is clear," Henry whispered.

Aria opened the door. "Thank you, Henry." Henry nodded.

Aria's eyes moved to the bed, "Are you tired?" Henry asked. "You can have the bed. I'll be up late reading anyway."

She stared at him. "I … I couldn't."

"Sure you can. We just have to be sure to wake up before my parent's notice. But like I said, I'll be reading." Aria bit her lip. It was tempting. "I could even read to you if you like. So long as I'm quiet."

"My mother used to read to me." She said, without meaning too.

"Then it's settled. Get some sleep."

Finally, Aria hopped up on the bed. Henry began to read.

 

Robin Hood's camp was just what one would expect. Tents hung up in a forest, with a bunch of logs arranged in a circle, presumably for the sake of seating, and fixings for a fire in the middle. Not that Will could see it well, struggling on Robin Hood's horse. He was finally let off when they reached the tents and he tumbled to the ground.

"What did you do that for?" He asked Robin Hood, who had descended a little more gracefully.

"He just saved your neck, twice." Said the shapely lady with dirty blonde hair Robin Hood helped her down.

Will shook his head at the lady, "I could've handled meself."

Robin took a jug of water and handed it to Will. "No, you couldn't. I'm sure you know you're way around a sword, but that's no match for a gun. Besides, I see no reason you need to become a murderer, Will."

"Yeah, about that. How'd you know my name?" Robin didn't say anything, "Well, you don't know everything about me. You don't know that the Sheriff had my parent's hanged, did'ja? Said they stole somethin', but it was jus' to feed me, and the sheriff just offed 'em, just like that."

"I know," Robin said.

"Then why didn't you let me kill 'im?"

"I just told you, I don't want you to become a murderer."

"What's it to you?"

Robin was quiet.

"All right, I'm going to go forage for some food," the lady said, gathering up a basket. "Perhaps while I'm gone you can, I don't know; open up? Face your demons? Tell the boy the truth?"

"Who you callin' boy?" Okay. So he was a boy, but that didn't mean this lady got to call him that.

She rolled her eyes at him, and sashayed over to Robin Hood, "Or, you could shut down, shut him out, and he'll surely run off and get himself killed. It's really you're choice, you know." She planted a kiss on Robin's cheek and headed out.

"She always boss you around like that?"

Robin laughed, "Speaks her mind. I happen to like that. And she's right. I should tell you that … that I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't save your mother from her fate. I was off doing, well, what I do. I didn't hear the sheriff had her until it was too late."

"What, did you know her or … ?"

"She was my sister, Will."

Will let out a breath. He hadn't been expecting that. "I, uh, I had a sister too."

Robin Hood nodded, "I know. Penelope, yes? Lovely name."

Penelope. Thinking of her, hearing her name, made Will's heart clench. His sister had been a wonder and a pain. Bossy sometimes, stubborn even more of the time. She thought she was in charge of him, not because she was four years his senior, but because she knew she was smarter, faster, better. And she wasn't wrong. Still, he loved her fiercely. They used to spend hours together playing. And there had been that one day, on the ice …

Did Robin Hood truly understand his pain? Had he really lost a sister the day Will had lost a mother?

"So, if you're my uncle, how come I've never met'cha before?" In spite of his doubts, Will settled down to sit on one of the logs.

"You know, I'm sure, that you mother ran off to marry your father. She was supposed to marry the sheriff, though he wasn't sheriff yet back then." Robin Hood settled to sit next to Will, "I helped her escape, but it was hard to keep in contact after that. I did my best to find out what happened to her. When I heard … I knew you'd go after the sheriff. You've got your mother's spirit."

"Penelope was the one with the spirit. I'm just … oi, wait a minute? If she was your sister, why didn't you let me kill him or, avenge her death yourself?"

"Because there's a difference between a thief and a murderer, Will. I may steal, but I'm honorable. So was your mother, and so can you be. And an honorable man doesn't murder another."

"He deserved it!"

Robin nodded, "Even so."

"I could have done 'im. I'm handy with a sword." Will stood and feinted as though he had his sword with him.

"Yes, I imagine you get that from your mother as well. Swords were always her weapon of choice." Robin Hood stood now, but he didn't approach Will, instead reaching for something, "Me, I prefer the bow." He held his bow with such affection, it made Will start, "I've used this bow to injure the sheriff before, and I will again. But it's not killing him that I want. It's undermining him. It's making him pay."

"Stealin' from him, you mean?"

"Why kill a man once when you can wound him eternally?" Will said nothing, "Will, I'd be willing to take you on. Train you. Make you a proper thief. Next time you come up against the sheriff, you can truly wound him and maintain your honor, and your mother's good name."

"I don't have much choice, do I?"

"Well, I won't let you kill him, and I'll keep looking out for you, but I'd prefer if you chose this."

Robin held out his hand, and finally, Will shook it. Soon, the lady reemerged.

"Perfect timing, Will here just agreed to join our ranks, Will, this is my wife, Marian."

"He says wife, though he hasn't married me properly yet." She said, smiling, "Welcome to the family, Will."

Will eyed Marian, sizing her up, "You know she was just listening to us, waiting to come back, right?"

"He's not as dumb as he looks," Marian said.

Robin shook his head, "No. I think he has potential."

 

"I thought we decided that the best thing to do was leave?" Rumpelstiltskin said, imploring his son.

"We did. I know, but-"

"This is a dangerous place, Bae. You know it. I know it. If my curse-"

"That's the last thing I want. Magic … you know I want nothing to do with it but … that woman, Jamie, and this place, and Henry and … and we can't just leave."

He knew it made no sense. But somehow, their world was here, and even more unbelievable, he couldn't leave it behind.

Rumpelstiltskin shook his head, "If we stay, it will all go terribly wrong." He didn't wait for his son to answer, just went out.

Neal put his head in his hands. He knew it wasn't right either, but something more than Jamie was telling him to stay, just a little longer. And Jamie was reason enough. He knew Emma felt it too. And Henry, the kid had come alive in a way that said he would need to be dragged out of here with a crowbar.

Emma's arms slid down Neal's chest and he took her hands in his, "What's wrong?"

Neal shook his head, "This place. It's … I don't know."

"I know what you mean. It's odd, and …" She didn't seem sure how to finish the sentence.

"Do you think we're doing the right thing, staying here?"

"I'd hardly say we're staying. It's just a little vacation. We'll be out of here in a week, and this town will forget all about us."

Neal sighed, "I hope you're right."

He got up and headed for the door. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to do a little sightseeing."

"Well, give me a minute to get dressed, I'll come with."

Neal shook his head, "Henry was up late reading that book of his; he's still conked out. My dad's gone off so …"

"So someone had to stay with Henry. All right, well, bring me back a bear claw or something."

Neal nodded, saluting Emma and heading for the door.

 

This town is dangerous. It will consume you. If you don't get out, something will get to you. Something will get to your family. They're all against you.

"I beg your pardon?" An indignant British voice said.

Rumpelstiltskin looked up, the whispers dissipating as he came face to face with a tall woman with red hair.

"Did I harm you?" It would seem impossible, given his limp, but she seemed fairly convinced that he was in the wrong.

"Nearly blew just past me!" She shrieked, "Who taught you manners?"

She's powerful. She's dangerous. "My apologies. And who do I have the pleasure of nearly barreling over?"

She blinked. Twice. Then she smiled, "You must be one of that family of newcomers. I'm the Mayor, Selena Mills."

Mills? A miller's daughter perhaps? "Jack." He thought it best not to give his last name. Not yet. She's dangerous.

"Well, it's nice to meet you. Perhaps you would join me for a cup of tea? There's a tearoom, just down there."

Keep your enemies close. It wasn't a voice he wanted to listen to. Not after all this time. But was it wrong? "I would be happy to, Madam Mayor."

 

"Kid?" Emma asked, knocking on the door. Henry had been strangely quiet all day. He wasn't usually one to sleep in. She started to turn the door handle and was surprised to find it locked.

"I'm up mom." She heard him say after a minute.

"Is everything okay in there?"

"Yeah. Fine."

"Well, your father went out for a bit. I thought we could hang out."

There was a pause, then, "I'm good."

"Henry, are you sure everything's-"

There were some scuffling noises and then Henry came to the door. It didn't escape Emma's notice that he didn't open it the whole way, "Sorry. I was up late reading."

"What is with you and that book?"

Henry shook his head, "I'll tell you …. But not yet."

"Henry-" Emma started, skeptically.

"It's fine, I promise. I was actually thinking it might be fun to explore the town."

"You're father had the same thought. Why don't we see if we can catch up with him?"

Henry glanced behind him, "Um, okay."

 

"Pretty, isn't she?" A voice said from behind Neal, startling him. He cursed under his breath. The truth was, he hadn't even meant to come here. He had just been wandering around town, trying to figure out how this town existed, and somehow he found himself making his way to the local school, watching Jamie P. Jones through her office window.

"It's not like that." He said, eyeing the woman who had caught him staring. She was British, like many people in this town seemed to be. Her hair, which was covered by a knit cap, appeared brown at first, but on closer inspection revealed itself to be a dirty blonde. Her eyes were green and her figure was curvy. She was pretty, but not familiar, as Jamie had been. He didn't need to know anything about her, really.

"It's none of my business." She said, her demeanor changing slightly, "I'm just here to clean away the refuse."

Neal raised an eyebrow at her, and she pointed behind him. He realized he was standing in front of the dumpster, "Oh. Sorry." She nodded at him and headed back for her truck. "Hey wait," Neal said, jogging to catch up, "What do you know about her?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "It's really not like it sounds. I just think I might know her from somewhere. I was wondering where she came from?"

"From here, I think."

"But, I mean, she's British, so she must -"

"Everybody's from here that lives here, as far as I know."

"So you're going to tell me you're not from England either?"

She stopped for a minute, squinting, "I … this is the only place I ever remember living."

Neal shook his head, "That can't be true."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you. And I've got rounds, so if you don't mind-"

"Yeah, yeah, I'll get out of your way." He watched her truck drive away, and then he was watching the office again. Jamie looked his way, and their eyes met. She offered him a smile. He waved and then headed away. This town … there had to be answers somewhere.

 

"Well, we hit up the diner, got our bear claws … but dad wasn't there. So where to next?"

Henry shrugged. "Let's just walk around. See where we end up?"

Emma nodded. She hadn't liked Neal wandering off this morning as much as she let him believe. He'd been acting weird since they got to this town. But she trusted him. He'd earned it, after all. If she couldn't trust Neal, who could she trust?

"Check it out. An old movie theatre." Henry said, running ahead of her, "You think it's like the one you and dad used to go to as kids?"

Emma smirked, "Probably more expensive. People like to pay extra for nostalgia."

She headed in after her son who was making a thing of checking out the place. "They have old posters! And a phone booth! Do you think it works?"

"It's probably just a relic."

"Let me try. It probably takes quarters or something." Henry held out his hand expectantly.

Emma sighed and started fishing through her pockets, "And who exactly do you plan on calling?"

"Your cell. Duh. Make sure it's on."

Shaking her head, and smiling despite herself, Emma took out her cell phone and checked that it was on and charged. Henry went into the phone booth and closed the doors. A few seconds later, Emma's phone started to ring.

"Got it working?"

"Got what working?"

"Neal," Emma said, surprised. She hadn't checked caller I.D. "Hey, where are you. Henry and I were -"

"I was checking out the local public school."

An alarm went off in Emma's head, "Isn't that where that Jamie woman said she worked? At the schools?"

There was a pause. "Yeah. She works there. She's principal, I think."

"And why are you there?"

"I was thinking about Henry, I guess. Wondering if we should have put him in regular school."

Well, that was out of left field, "You're the one who wanted him to go to the year-round place."

"It wasn't just me. You said that kids in public schools slip through the cracks and that you wanted to make sure we saw him more than the teachers did. We both-"

"That's right. We both. Don't put it off ten years later like it was all me. We both made the decision. And why are you even thinking about that right now?"

"I … I don't know, okay. Look, where are you guys?"

"We're at an old movie theater. Henry's trying to, oh, that's my other line. I'll call you back." Emma switched lines. Whatever was going on with Neal, she could deal with it later, "Hello."

"It works. Isn't that awesome. I was confused with the dial at first, but I figured it out."

"You're a smart one."

Emma heard a click. Then Henry opened up the booth.

"This town is awesome. Can we never leave?"

"You're gonna have to get back to school eventually, kid."

"I could go to school here. We can't just leave!"

Emma blinked. Henry was a passionate kid, but this seemed a little far, even for him. Why was he so attached to this town? She feels like she should say something to dissuade him, but she isn't sure what. Before she can think of anything, Henry starts to run towards a closed door off to the side.

"Henry-"

"There's music coming from there. Listen-"

She did. And he was right. She did hear music. Curiously, Emma pushed the door open and she and Henry found themselves in a theater that did not have a big screen, but a big stage. Up on the stage was Mary Margaret belting out "Like a Prayer" by Madonna. Emma settled into one of the seats in the back and Henry followed suit. After Mary Margaret finished up with the last line, Emma started clapping. Henry whooped a little. Mary Margaret looked at them like a deer in headlights and started to skitter off the stage.

"You were amazing," Henry said, heading over to her.

"I … I didn't realize anybody was here."

"Neither did we." Emma said, "How come there's a stage in a movie theater?"

"Well, when they first built it, it was supposed to be an actual theater for the high school, but the drama program couldn't make the payments, so the theater people took over and built off the work that had already been done, leaving this room as it was. Sometimes they rent it out for parties and karaoke. When I was in high school, I used to come …" she blushed.

"You've got some pipes on you."

Mary Margaret shook her head, "I never had what it took to really make it. I mean, I never even made it out of Storybrooke."

"Then how do you know you don't have what it takes?"

Mary Margaret's eyes glazed over a little, then she said, "I just know. It was a fantasy. I flighty fantasy from the brain of a naïve and flighty girl."

Emma shook her head, "I'm sure that's not true."

"Yeah, we liked it."

Mary Margaret started for a second, as if noticing Henry for the first time, "You have a son."

Emma smiled and pulled Henry close affectionately, "Yup." She said, ruffling his hair.

"Sorry, I just … you seem so young and I … never mind."

"I was young … we were young. But that's not a problem for me."

"Or for me. I didn't mean it was. I just, I'm in my late twenties already and I still can't imagine having a child. All that responsibility … it makes me want to run."

Emma gave Mary Margaret a sympathetic smile, "Nobody said you had to be a mom. To each his own."

"I suppose. I'm just … well, as you can guess, I'm kind of immature. I can never seem to get my feet under me."

"Admitting that seems mature to me. And maybe you've just had some bad luck."

"Oh no, I'm very lucky. I have the best sister in the world."

"Right, the mayor. Hey, how'd that job thing work out?" The look on Mary Margaret's face made Emma regret asking. "Well, I'm sure she can help you out-"

"She's tried!" Mary Margaret said, tears coming to her eyes as she collapsed in one of the seats, "I'm just flighty and unreliable and-"

"Whoa, hey, slow down. Look, I don't know you, okay? I don't know your deal or what you've been from. But from what I can tell, you're a good person who wants to try. Sometimes, that's enough. Sometimes it's not. But if there's anything I know for sure, it's that while life may take a crazy, and sometimes even cruel road, you usually end up in a pretty good place."

Mary Margaret swatted at her eyes, "Thank you. And I'm sorry, for breaking down like that. It's just so hard to hope sometimes."

"You're talking to someone who thought hope was like Santa Claus. But you'd be surprised what you can find when you're not even looking."

With a grateful nod, Mary Margaret began to steady herself. "Thanks."

"No problem. I gotta go find my husband, but I'll see you around, okay?"

Mary Margaret nodded again, "I hope so."

"Me too."

 

Aria hadn't been at home. Scathe should've been worried about her, but he wasn't. Not really. She wasn't dumb enough to get in any trouble, or at least in any trouble that would get him in any trouble. And he had a mission. The Stilskins. He was doing his best to dig up information, and he had some ideas on just who to ask. As he made his way through town, something made him pause.

There, through a shop window, he saw the mayor. She was sitting up straight, looking lovely as ever, and she was glowing. But she wasn't with that fool husband of hers. No, she was with a stranger, presumably one of the aforementioned Stilskins. He was a good enough looking man, for an old guy with a cane. But Jack felt himself seethe watching those too click over tea. He wanted to storm in, but he knew he had no right.

Clenching his teeth, he walked on wondering when Aria would be home. He was angry, and he would be needing a release.

 

"Man was watching you today," May said by way of greeting as she entered the Principle's office.

"What man?"

"Shaggy guy. Not from around here."

"Oh him. Never mind him. He's harmless."

May nodded, "I'll take your word for it then. Like to get some drinks at The Rabbit Hole?"

Jamie shook her head, gathering up her folders, "I've got paperwork, and it's a school night."

"Right. Well, I'll be heading home then, I guess. Until the night shift at any rate." Jamie nodded. "Night Ms. Jones."

She waved as the girl left. They weren't friends. Not really. But Jamie knew that May wanted to avoid going home to her sad life for as long as she could. It was no crime really. Still, people had to live with the beds they'd made for themselves.

 

Once they were gone, Mary Margaret headed into the back room and got out the stage props she needed to make up her bed for the night. Being caught singing would be mortifying, but at least that hadn't worked out where she slept.

Oh, Selena was always offering her a bed. She was good like that. But for some reason, Mary Margaret always found herself refusing. And she couldn't move back home. She would never live down the shame of it, assuming Granny would even have her. No, this did just fine for now; a curled up space on an old couch with a prop pillow and blanket. She closed her eyes and tried to pretend she was somewhere else, or someone else. Maybe that Emma woman. She seemed strong, and like she had a good life. She seemed happy. For a minute, she had even made Mary Margaret believe that she could be happy too.

 

When Emma got home with Henry, she didn't seem to want to talk. And Henry went straight for his room. So it was just the two of them and awkward silence for a while. But then Mr. Stilskin came home with some interesting news. He had had tea with the mayor, and she had invited the whole family over for a home-cooked meal tomorrow. Wasn't that nice of her? But there was a look in his eye that Neal didn't like. A mischievous, planning look. Was this a good thing? He didn't know.

 

"You're still here," Henry whispered.

Aria nodded, "I'm sorry. I don't know why I stayed, I just-"

"No, it's okay. You can stay as long as you want."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Here. Why don't we read some more?"

"Fine, but at least let me take the floor tonight."

"Not a chance."

 

"Really likes doin' this doesn't he?" Will said, pulling his horse this way and that. Robin put his hand on Will's horse to steady it.

"What, forcin' women to-?"

"First my mother, and then your wife-"

"Still not married," Marian interjected.

"You had to give her a chance to bring that up, didn't you?"

"I jus' mean, for a man who ain't ever actually been married, he goes through this a lot."

"Well, we're not sure he's actually trying to marry this girl," Robin said, stopping them for a second before pointing to the left, "but either way, she needs aid."

"That she does. Maybe she'll be my Marian, I can sweep her off 'er feet." Will said, half joking, as they rode on.

"If you're like us, she'll be smitten the second she sets eyes on you."

"I most certainly was not!"

Robin laughed, "Come on. We have a woman to save from the sheriff."

When they arrived at the cabin where the woman was being kept, the crept in quietly, trying to get a good look at the place.

"You'd make a fine wife, M'lady." The sheriff said, reaching out to touch the woman's dust stained cheek. She flinched back from him.

"You can't force me to marry you."

"Maybe. But I can force something else." He lunged for her, and Robin took his aim just as the girl lifted her leg and kicked the sheriff right in his most sensitive spot. Meanwhile, Robin's arrow had whizzed past the sheriff's head. A warning shot.

"Hey, Sheriff." Will said, before coming up and punching the sheriff in the face.

Robin laughed.

"You all right?" Marian asked the woman.

She nodded, "He's a bastard."

"That he is. But my horse seats two. Can I interest you in an escape."

"That would be lovely. Thank you."

Then the four of them were on horses, riding away from the Sheriff, just like old times.

"I suppose you would be the legendary Robin Hood? And you're Maid Marian then?"

"What, you haven't heard of me?" Will asked cheekily.

"Of course I have. You're the one who wines that nobody's heard of you."

"See Will, she knows you," Robin said.

"Will is it?"

"That's me. And who do we have the pleasure of rescuing today?"

"My name's Belle."

Chapter Text

Princess Snow surveyed the little farm. It was quaint enough, nothing like anything she had ever known in her life before. When her father had first told her she had to stay on a stranger peasant's farm in the middle of nowhere in some other kingdom, she hadn't been pleased.

"They're not in this war yet. It's safer for you there."

"Well then, why can't you and mother come with me?"

Queen Eva shook her head, "I wish we could sweetheart, but your father and I have to command the troops and see to the safety of the people. We need to know that you're safe."

She didn't want to leave the palace, or her or family behind, but she knew her parents knew what was best for her. And really, she didn't have a choice. So here she was, stepping up to knock on the door of a peasant family in King George's Kingdom.

"Princess Snow." A man said as he opened the door. Then he blushed, "I'm sorry. I know that nobody is supposed to know who you are, it's just, I didn't know what else to call you."

Snow nodded, following the man inside his farmhouse, "That's quite all right." She said, trying to sound diplomatic. That's what mother would want.

"This is my home, and this is my wife, Ruth." The woman gave a slight bow, and Snow smiled. "And my sons are … where is your brother?"

A young man, blonde and around her age, stood against the wall, watching them interact, "He's at the market."

"My sons and wife know who you are, of course, but we haven't told anybody else. We owe your father a great debt; he is a good king."

"He is a very good king." Snow agreed, scanning the room with her eyes.

Then the door burst open, "We'll eat well tonight." In came a young man who looked remarkably like the one standing against the wall, "I bought enough for a small feast. The king will not regret trusting us with his daughter." His eyes went to Snow, and they widened, "You must be The Princess," he said, kneeling, "It is an honor."

"I … people can't know I'm here. Its probably best if you do not all bow to me."

The young man stood up, "My apologies."

"Allow me to introduce my sons, James and David. And I'm Robert, of course."

Snow nodded, "And you may call me … Margaret. For the duration of my stay here."

"Allow me to take you to my bed." The son who had come through the front door said. Then he turned scarlet, "I'm sorry, I meant, the bed you'll be staying in, which is mine, but not-"

"It's all right." Snow said, stopping him, "And thank you." She followed him up the stairs to the bedroom.

"Here you shall sleep, safe and sound if I have anything to say about it."

Snow nodded again, "Thank you." She took a seat on the bed, and he stood watching her. After a minute, she said, "Um, I'm sorry, but the introductions were confusing, and you and your brother are twins. Which-?"

"James. My name is James."

Snow smiled, "James. It's a nice name."

"In your time here, I hope you find me as pleasing as you do my name. I'll take my leave of you now."

He turned and left Snow to ponder her thoughts. James seemed nice, charming and endearing in his way. Still, it was not the same as being around her family. It was not the same as sleeping in her own bed. Right now, back home, her parents waged war while she sat here out of the way. Perhaps she should feel guilty for not aiding in the warring effort, and a part of her did. However, for the most part, she just missed her parents. She wanted to cry, but that would not befitting of a princess to do, and they might hear her. So she settled into the bed and tried to sleep.

 

"He's handsome." Aria said, looking at the picture, "Is that James?"

"I think so." Henry said, "He and David are twins, so it's hard to tell."

"And she falls for James? I thought Snow White married a Prince."

"Prince Charming, and it's a little more complicated than that."

"How?"

Henry smiled, "We're not there yet. I don't want to spoil it."

Aria returned his smile, "Thank you for allowing me to sleep here again Henry. I know I can't make a habit of it-"

"You can sleep over any time you want. I don't mind." Henry said, putting the book aside.

"I'm sure your parents will."

"So I won't tell them. But they're cooler than you think. They might be okay with it."

Aria shook her head and began pacing, "People are supposed to do things, Henry. They have responsibilities. You can't just run away from your problems."

"No, but you fix your problems. Which is what I'm going to make happen. I just need time."

 

He recognized her in an instant. It was strange; with her modern clothes, without her wings and the glow of color around her, one would think he wouldn't. It should take a second or two at least. But Baelfire never forgot his conversation with the Reul Ghorm, never forgotten what she had done for him. How could she be here?

"Hey." She doesn't stop, so he speeds up, "Hey! Wait!" She speeds up too. When he finally catches up, he grabs her arm, "How are you here?"

She pulls her arms back, "Excuse me."

"Do you recognize me? Does the name Baelfire mean anything to you?"

"I'm sorry. I need to get to work." She tries to walk around him, but he blocks her, "I'm late. Please -"

"What's going on in this town? Please. You can talk to me."

"I don't have time. And I don't know you. Please, let me pass."

Sighing, he steps back, letting her through. She scurries off, heading for a purple building that read Drake's Parlor.

He needs to talk to his father. That would be the right thing to do. Rumpelstiltskin would know how to handle this. But …

What if handling it means leaving? They can't leave. Not until he knows how Jamie is connected to him, and to his mother. He needs a plan. And maybe a drink.

 

There was a noise. She wasn't sure what it was exactly, but it was a noise. Mary Margaret was used to the odd noise. When you were secretly living in an old theater, you had to get used to a lot of noises. There was May and the garbage truck, there was the scurrying of the occasional mouse. There were lots of things you had to be alert about.

But Mary Margaret wasn't used to hearing someone walking around the right outside her door. She didn't know if she should hide or defend herself. There were definitely dangerous people in Storybrooke. That wasn't a question. But were they here. Or was someone just wandering about? Maybe they would go away.

It wasn't just the sound of someone though, it was the also the smell. Coffee. Why was someone bringing coffee? And food? She was sure she could smell bacon. Mary Margaret's stomach grumbled. She was hungry. Her food money was running low, and she hadn't gotten that job … maybe she could just wander out and see what was going on. Gathering up her courage, and grabbing the lamp from the desk to use as a weapon if she needed one, she made her way out to the auditorium.

And there was Emma. Sitting on the stage with coffee. And food!

"Emma?" Mary Margaret said, dropping the lamp to the ground.

"Hey? I was a little worried about the cuisine, considering how behind the times this town seems to be, but Granny's breakfast menu has a bunch of great options."

"What are you doing here?"

"Actually," Emma said, hopping off the stage, grabbing the paper bag with the granny's logo as she did. "I was looking for you. Thought you might want some breakfast. And coffee. Even girls bound for Broadway need a jolt."

She picked up the paper mug and handed it to Mary Margaret who took it but didn't drink. Yet.

"How … how did you know I'd be here?"

"Just a hunch," Emma said, taking a sip of her own coffee.

"I just … hang out here. Sometimes." Mary Margaret said carefully.

"I'm not judging. Just thought you could use something in your belly."

Mary Margaret nodded and took a cautious sip. It tasted so good. "I didn't know what you would want to eat, but I thought a BLT was a good bet. Unless … you're not vegetarian, right? Or kosher?"

Mary Margaret shook her head, "Thank you." She accepted the bag and took a look inside. Then she looked back up at Emma sheepishly, "I don't, I can't, that is, I don't have -"

"I have a good job and so does my husband. I think I can swing a BLT and a coffee."

The sandwich smelled good and fresh. Mary Margaret took it out of the bag and took a huge bite. "Umm."

"Nothing hit's the spit quite like bacon in the morning, even in a sandwich."

"Granny knows things about cooking. She tried to teach me when I was in high school, but I'm just hopeless in the kitchen."

"What was that like an after school program?"

"No, um, my parents … Granny took Selena and me in after the, um, accident."

Emma nodded, "I'm an orphan myself."

"You are?"

"Never even knew my parents."

"I guess that's easier." Mary Margaret said as she scarfed down her sandwich, "Nobody to miss."

"You'd be surprised. Still, I've landed on my feet."

"Seems like it." The sandwich was gone. Had she really been that hungry? "Well, thank you."

"Anytime." Emma said, "And I mean that. Anytime you need anything-"

"I thought you were just a tourist." Mary Margaret said, "How long are you staying in town?"

"I'm … not sure."

Mary Margaret gave her a skeptical smile, "Right. Well, don't you worry about me."

She started for the door, and Emma followed her, "Mary Margaret-"

"I appreciate the free breakfast, really. But I don't need charity from someone who isn't even sticking around."

"It's not charity. I just thought since you're living in a theater," Mary Margaret's eyes got wide, and she started to deny it, "I'm not judging. I've been there. I've done the barely-having-a-roof over your head thing. I've done the having no roof over your head thing. But someone took a chance on me-"

"Well, I'm not you."

"No, but you need a friend."

"I have my sister."

"Does she know you've been living in a theater using cheap costumes for pajamas?"

"I thought you weren't judging."

"I'm not." Emma sighed, "I'm not. I just want to help. And I get that you don't believe that because nobody has ever said it to you and meant it, but I do. I mean it. Please just … just let me be your friend."

"I don't need a friend. I need a miracle. And miracles don't pass through this town. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have …" she stopped. She didn't have anything. No job. No job interview. She could be stuck in this conversation with this stubborn do-gooder forever.

But then Emma sighed and turned to leave. As she watched the door close behind her, a small part of Mary Margaret wanted her to stay.

 

It was a day just like any other. Alana Drake woke up and spent the better part of her morning coiffing her blonde hair. She had always been rather proud of it. She called the hospital to check in and make sure everything was running smoothly before heading in for work.

Some days, she missed working at the hospital. The hands-on medical experience held a certain appeal for her. But, she had branched out for a reason.

"Good morning Miss Drake." Her receptionist said pleasantly if a little nervously. Alana simply gave her a nod and retreated to her office. The hours ticked by as she filled out paperwork. Then, she heard a commotion at the front desk. Before she knew it, The Mayor was flinging her door open. How annoying. They were friends of course, but there was something about Selena that always felt a bit too clingy to Alana.

"What can I do for you?" She asked, wondering if one of her masseurs would mind taking her later. Of course, they wouldn't. It was one of the advantages that came with owning such a place.

"I have a problem, and as much as I hate to do this, I also kind of love it." Alana looked at her friend. How strange she was, sometimes, "Would you come over here, there's something I need to show you." Alana pushed back her chair and went over to The Mayor. And then, The Mayor slapped Alana right upside the face. First, all she felt was shock. Things blurred, and her head rang. And then there were images, things long forgotten. She felt her eyes open for the first time. "Welcome back, dear." The Mayor said, smugly.

"I don't recall anything in the curse about slapping someone to wake them up. Did I not read the fine print?"

The response came with a cackle, "No, of course not. I can wake anybody up anyway that I want. It is my curse, after all. I simply like to go for the dramatic."

She rolled her eyes at the witch, "You always did. Well, Your Highness, what can I do for you?"

"I always hated that title. I was The Wicked Witch before I was queen of anything you know, and frankly, I prefer Oz to The Enchanted Forest."

It was droll. Selena (or was it Zelena now? Did it really matter?) always had been one to ramble on. But Alana had been around the block a time or two, and she knew there was a reason for her friend's visit and the little wake-up call. The question was what? "You woke me up to so you could have someone to complain to? How quaint."

The witch shook her head, stomping away, "Don't be ridiculous. I woke you up because I have a problem. In case you haven't noticed, time is moving." She waited, but Alana said nothing, "How is it possible?" she finally asked.

"As you said, it's your curse." The sorceress said with a smirk. She couldn't help but imagine that her old friend was still green as could be as she watched her steam like broccoli.

"But I didn't make the blasted thing! Have you forgotten, this was all your idea? You're the one who told me about it, bloody helped me get it-"

"And yet, you were the one who cast it, making this town worship at your feet in that pathetic way of theirs."

Now Selena smirked, "Are you saying you're unhappy? I thought I gave you a respectable life."

Alana nodded, "You did. At my behest, but you did, and I am grateful." She made her way back to her desk and pulled her chair out and sitting as she had been before, "I wish I could help you, but all I knew about the curse, I shared with you." she put her elbows on the desk and laced her fingers, tilting her head just so, "Girls like us so like to share, don't we?"

Selena sneered, "You must know something."

Alana sighed, "Well if you're going to be that way about it, I suggest you start with asking yourself what triggered the change. There's always a catalyst. And now, that's really all I have time for. So if you wouldn't mind." She made a motion with her hands to indicate The Mayor should leave, and returned her eyes to her papers.

Selena left in a huff. She didn't see the smile that quirked her old friend's lips once she was gone.

 

"Your humming is annoying," David said as the two brothers herded the sheep.

"I'm happy, brother. The sun is shining brighter today." David just shook his head. His brother had been like this all week. Ever since the arrival of Princess Snow. "Surely you've noticed a change. How things seem brighter?"

"I'd rather not talk about it."

"Brothers talk."

"True," David said, steering a sheep toward him, "but you won't like what I have to say."

"Which is?"

David sighed, "She's a Princess. Do you really think she'll have time for a simple shepherd? Do you think she could care for you?"

James looked struck, "You think she's too good for me?"

"Hardly. You mistake me, brother. I think you're too good for her."

"How can you say that? You've seen her. She's-"

"Quite beautiful. And quite spoiled. She's polite enough, but she locks herself away, not lifting a hand to help us-"

"She's a Princess-"

"Exactly. She's a spoiled Princess, praised for every small act and never done an honest day of work in her life. She'll care for pretty things and royal parties and nothing else will please her. If you did win her affections, I would pity you."

David heard footsteps behind him and turned to see the Princess storming up to him. Before he could speak, she slapped him across the face.

"My apologies Margaret." James said as David rubbed his cheek, "My brother is-"

"Quite capable of speaking for himself, apparently." Snow interrupted, "I appreciate your apology James, but you didn't do anything wrong."

"No, I suppose I did." David interjects, "I spoke the truth, and honesty apparently offends you."

"Your honesty is not the truth. You don't know me, and you clearly made up your mind the moment you first saw me walk through your door-"

"Looking down your nose at us and how little we have. Yes, I did judge you. Tell me, would you be so unhappy here if we were just a neighboring palace? I suppose you would like us if we were royal. Would you have slapped me for my words if I were a prince?"

"And what sort of prince would you fancy yourself, with your insults and gossip? A two-faced, charming backstabber? All hail Prince Charming and his holier than thou judgments."

"If a prince were charming and handsome, would that not be enough for you?"

"You are neither charming nor handsome. The only thing likable about you is your family."

"I wish I could say the same."

"How dare you-"

"Enough, both of you." James interrupted, "The ill-will spread here benefits nobody. Now, Margaret, I apologize for my brother. He and I have work to do, so why don't you head back to the house."

Snow seemed to consider for a moment. Finally, she nodded. Both brothers watched her go.

"Did you have to be so cruel to her?" James asked.

"She'll be cruel to you, brother, and I won't have you hurt. You're my best friend."

"Then for my sake, be civil."

 

"My office is closed," Jamie said, not looking up from the papers she was grading.

"Well, there are no hours posted on the door, so I didn't know … may I come in?"

Sighing, Jamie put her papers aside. She rose to meet Neal at the door, "You've been a strange shadow since we met at the gas station. People tell me I should be nervous, but I can protect myself." She crossed her arms, and for the first time, and she could feel Neal's eyes on her prosthetic, "That doesn't mean I'll put up with being stalked."

"Stalked? No, I … it's not like that. I told you -"

"That I remind you of your mother." She shook her head, still not letting him into her office. "It's a nice line. But it doesn't explain you hanging around yesterday. And I saw you accost Ms. Drake's receptionist this morning." It had surprised her, seeing him go after that poor woman. In spite of herself, she found she wanted to trust him. But trust had to be earned.

"That wasn't -"

Jamie doesn't let him finish, "I may not be the most powerful person in this town, but that doesn't mean I can't make life difficult for you." She got a little closer, trying to act intimidating. Neal took a step back, then shook his head, and put his hands up.

"I don't want trouble. Really. But, do your parents live in town?"

"My parents are dead." The response was automatic. And why shouldn't it be? Her parents had always been dead. Well, no, obviously not always just …

Neal looked slightly disappointed by her answer, "Well, do you remember them?"

"Of course." she said, the words once again appearing from nowhere, the answer seeming to manifest in her brain like she had always known it, "My father fixed cars. My mother helped him." And she could remember, couldn't she? Her parents had owned a garage, and her father had loved the place. He had loved cars and taught her everything he knew. For some reason, it felt like new information, "They died in a car accident, ironically."

"Do you have any pictures?" Neal asked, his voice patient yet hopeful.

"Why are you asking about my parents?"

"Because … I think we might be related." Jamie shook her head, getting ready to kick him out of the building, "Just listen to me for a second, okay? My mom, she disappeared when I was little. I don't know what happened to her. Where she went, the life she led. Isn't it possible that your mother had a past? That maybe -?"

"If I show you a picture, you can just say it's your mum. How will I know you're not lying?"

"What could I possibly have to gain? Us being related would only complicate my life. Trust me."

"That's the problem. I don't." She didn't trust him. But she couldn't help but feel sorry for him, with his kicked puppy look. And the truth was, there was a lot she didn't know about her parents, a lot she might never know. All her family was gone. "What about a blood test? We can go to the local hospital and get one done. If it says we're related … well, then, there you go." He didn't say anything, "And if not, then you'll leave me alone."

"Okay." He said, after a minute, "That seems fair."

 

She knew she couldn't hide out in Henry's hotel room forever. It was just, the longer she stayed there, the angrier she knew Jack would be. He must have noticed by now, and that scared her. And if she left, she might not be able to come back. She liked Henry and his stories, and this quiet little room. It was safe. Aria knew she was not the type of girl to go and have epic adventures. She was content to stay at home with a good book, and she saw no shame in that.

Maybe she could sneak home. Just to change her clothes and take a quick shower. Would it be so bad?

"Where are you going?" Henry asked as he saw her head for the window.

"I was just going to pop home for a minute. Don't worry. I'll be back." Should she even be making such a promise?

"Good," Henry said. He had such a sweet, innocent face. He really did believe that all the world's problems could be solved by that book, didn't he? The stranger part was, a part of Aria believed it too.

 

She wasn't suspicious. That wasn't it. Emma trusted Neal. He had been there for her when no one else had. For years, he and his father were all she had to rely on. And they hadn't disappointed her. So why would they now? Why would he? It was just that he'd been acting so strange since they got to this town. There was that phone call yesterday, where he was trying to deflect her by bringing up Henry's schooling. She knew that had to be what he had been doing because why else bring that up now. It was totally out of left field. The question was, what was he deflecting her from?

She had to know. So when she had seen him and Jamie Jones walking somewhere together, she had followed them. She wasn't proud of it, but there it was. She followed them to Storybrooke's local hospital, which was pretty weird. She hid in the doorway as she saw them talk to one of the nurses.

"Everything all right?" Emma jumped. She turned to see a blonde woman in a nice suit and uncomfortable-looking high heels. So, not a nurse then. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."

"It's cool." Emma tried to glance behind the woman as casually as she could. Unfortunately, not only was it totally obvious, but Neal and Jamie were gone. "Hey, this is one of those freakish towns where everybody knows everybody, right?"

The woman smiled, "I suppose that's true."

"So, you know Jamie Jones then?"

"We … don't exactly swim in the same circles, but I know her a little." The woman gave her an expectant look, knowing there would be more. What was she doing? She couldn't go around asking a complete stranger about Jamie. And if it got back to Neal, "Was that all?"

"I was just … wondering. About her family. If she has one."

"Everybody has a family, don't they?"

"Technically, I guess. What I meant was, does she have a husband, a couple kids, all that classic American values stuff?"

"Ms. Jones has been single for quite some time now, I believe. And no, she doesn't have any kids." Emma felt herself wince, "You might want to be careful about these questions in the future, though. Someone might get the wrong idea."

Emma straightened up, "Are you … is that supposed to a be a threat?"

"Believe it or not, it's just friendly advice. You wouldn't want the wrong people to know just how curious our little town makes you. Not everyone is as polite as I am."

"And who exactly are you?"

"You're right. I should have introduced myself. Alana Drake." She put out her hand and Emma shook it reluctantly.

"Emma Stilskin."

"Pleasure. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check on a few things." Ms. Drake walked right past Emma, and right past the nurses. They didn't seem to mind. Clearly, Ms. Drake had clearance.

 

"Henry? What have you been up to today?"

Henry shrugged as he grabbed some cereal bars from his grandfather's suitcase, "Just hanging out in my hotel room. Mom and dad both had errands and stuff to take care of."

"They left you here all on your own."

"I wasn't … I mean, you're here, so obviously I'm not on my own."

His grandfather smiled and grabbed his cane, "Well, I was just going to go out for a walk. Would you care to join me?"

Henry shrugged, "I guess. Just give me a sec to change."

His grandfather nodded in his direction. Henry went back to his room, hiding the book in the closet. He was careful to leave the window open and the rope dangling for Aria when she got back. Then he went off with his grandfather, thinking about what he had just read.

 

It had been months now that Snow had lived with the shepherd and his family. She still felt sad at night, missing home terribly. The ache of not knowing if her loved ones were safe was so much. But the family was nice to her, mostly. Even the obnoxious one, who she called "Prince Charming" mostly left her alone, even since the day she had shown up in the barn and set to work. She didn't know what she was doing, but she refused to be seen as some spoiled brat. So she had figured it out, and he had watched her. He hadn't offered to help, nor had he made fun of her. He just watched. And at the end of the day when she was sore and dirty, he had said a begrudging "nice work," to her. They didn't speak more than that. James spoke to her a lot though. He was very kind, always trying to make her smile. She hadn't told him how alone she was, or how scared, but she appreciated his kindness. Which was why she felt her chest turn to ice when he said he was going to enlist in the Ogres War.

"You can't. You'll be killed." David said.

"Many have been killed. And if I can help-"

"You're needed here." Ruth said desperately, "James, we love you so much. Why would you do this?"

His eyes flicked to Snow, and the cold in her chest intensified, "James," she said, stepping forward, "Don't do this. Not for me. You have nothing to prove and … and you're family needs you here. I need you here." She knew, even as she said it, that she didn't need him the way he wanted her too. But she did need him. And she wanted him to be safe.

"You'll be fine here. You'll have David. There's nobody I trust more, much as you two snipe at each other, he'll keep you safe-"

"I've seen how brutal the war can get. And my parents were shielding me. You could die … I won't be the reason you die. I refuse to be the reason your family loses you!"

"You're not the reason. The reason is me. I can help. I want to help. If nobody stops them, the Ogres will spread out even more. They've already taken out multiple kingdoms. Someday, they'll come for us. I can't let that happen."

"Then I'm coming with you," David said stepping forward.

"No!" Ruth said, "I absolutely forbid it. I won't lose both my boys. We need you here. We need both of you."

"Protect them while I'm gone," James said to David, "I'm counting on you."

David looked ready to fight his brother. Their eyes locked, and it was like a storm, watching the unspoken war. Finally, David relented. He stepped back, shaking his brother's hand, "I'll look after them. But you must promise to look after yourself."

"I will," James said, clapping his brother on the back as the two hugged.

Ruth took her son in her arms, bursting into tears, and Robert rubbed her arm soothingly. "Be well son." He said over Ruth's sobs.

Then James went over to Snow, "I have enjoyed getting to know you." He said.

Snow, blinking back tears, leaned in and kissed his cheek, "Come back safely."

 

Nothing was fair in Jack Scathe's life. Nothing. It had all been off for far too long. Why was the mayor entertaining some elderly gentleman from out of town in the teashop? Why was he sitting at home alone, drinking himself into a stupor?

He wasn't trying to numb the pain exactly. It was worse than that. He was already numb.

There was a clattering coming from his room, and Jack sat up. Maybe that was Aria. He wasn't sure when he had last seen her really. Had she come home last night?

Bottle in hand, he came in on her with a dress halfway over her head. She seemed to be trying to shimmy out of it.

"Need a hand with that?"

She started, "Jack. I'm … I'm sorry, I … I didn't know -"

"Didn't know what?" He asked, sauntering in, "That I was home? I am. Now, you need help with the dress?"

"I was just changing-"

"I can see that. That's why I'm askin' -"

"I've got it." She said, pulling the dress down the rest of the way.

"Thought it was comin' off." He said.

"No, I … it wasn't."

Jack nodded, walking up to her. He pulled her in for a kiss. She seemed taken off guard, but she let him. After a few seconds he pulled back. Then he threw the bottle he'd been holding against the wall. Aria made a slight hiccupy noise as the glass shattered. He grabbed her again, this time kissing her harder. Then he stepped back, frustrated. "It's never effin' good enough, is it? You notice that? It's never been -" he threw his hands up in the air.

"I'm … I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Just be …" he didn't know the word. What did he want her to be? Why couldn't she be what he wanted her to? Why couldn't he be content with what she was? "Where were you?"

"What?"

"Where were you? Last night? You didn't come home."

"I'm surprised you even noticed."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing. I just-"

"I could toss you out on your arse, ya know? I don't owe you nothing." Aria nodded, biting her lip, "Well, say somethin' then!"

"What – what do you want me to s-say?"

He shook his head, "I don't know." She just stared at him, and he wanted her to stop. So he slapped her. And then he slapped her again, "I don't know! I don't know!" He kept saying it, kept not knowing, kept beating on Aria.

 

"Thanks for the ice cream grandpa," Henry said, licking his cone. His grandfather nodded, "Hey, can I ask you a question?"

"Of course?"

"Where do you think fairytales come from?" His grandfather stopped short. Maybe this wasn't the best idea. But Henry decided to go forward, "I mean, I know someone makes them up, but who? And how? Where do those stories come from?"

"I'm … not sure. I never have been, really."

Henry nodded and waited for his grandfather to go on. He didn't, "What about Snow White? Where does that story come from?"

"Oh, I imagine a search engine could answer that."

"But I'm asking you."

Henry's grandfather gave a strained smile. Then his smile disappeared altogether. "Excuse me!" he started calling out after a woman. Henry followed him. It wasn't that hard to keep up with him, after all. "Excuse me!" He called again, but as it turned out, the woman was just to fast for a man with a cane, and a ten-year-old who didn't know why they were chasing her.

"Who was that, grandpa?"

His grandfather shook his head, "I don't know, Henry. I don't know."

 

The stars were brilliant tonight. Snow took a great whiff of the winter air as she stared up at them. It was a glorious night. James would have liked it.

"What are you doing out here?" She heard movement behind her. For a minute, she thought it was James, but then remembered that it couldn't be.

"David? Why are you up so late?"

He shook his head, "I … I couldn't sleep. It's been a week and we've had no word. I can't help but worry that …" Snow nodded, knowing there was nothing to say. "Isn't this the part where you tell me he'll be fine."

She shook her head, "I can't know that. And I'm not going to give you false reassurances. But … I hope he will be fine. I think it's good to believe in hope."

David nodded, "You never said what you were doing out here?"

"When I first got here, I missed home so much. I told your brother that there was nothing familiar here, nothing that made me feel like I was home. He took me out here, pointed up at the night sky and said, 'Isn't that the same view from your castle?' " Snow smiled at the memory, and so did David, "After that, I started coming out here a lot. And sometimes your brother would too. He liked the sky."

"We spent some time sleeping under the stars when we were boys. We were far from home, and we both missed our parents. But then we started looking at the stars, making up stories about how they were families, separated by time itself, and how they would find each other and burst into light with joy."

Snow smiled, "My mother told me stories about the stars when I was growing up. Some families, some lovers, all coming together up there in this big epic show." She pointed up, "That star cluster right there, it's a warrior who fought for his people. He fought bravely, and his heart was true. He survived, and made it home to his family."

"Are you making that up?"

"Maybe." David laughed, "I think your brother is very honorable. He's a good man. Your family is good. You deserve to be reunited."

"Thank you."

 

"Hey, kid, you about ready to go?" Emma asked through the door.

"Just a second mom," Henry said, looking around. Aria still hadn't come back. Henry didn't want to leave the book alone for very long. They were going to dinner at The Mayor's house, and with the way grown-ups ate dragged out meals, who knew when they would get back.

He was also worried about Aria. She was obviously in some sort of trouble, or she wouldn't have been hiding out in his room. But he knew he had to get dressed. Leaving the book might be bad, but bringing it would be worse, especially if this … theory he was developing turned out to be true. He knew it shouldn't. It was insane. And yet …

He made sure the book was well hidden. He made sure Aria would be able to get in. He put on when his mom called his monkey suit, and he locked the door behind him.

"Where's dad?" He asked as he, his mom, and his grandpa lined up at the door.

His mom didn't say anything for a minute. Then, "He's-"

The door opened and his dad came in, "Hey. Sorry, I'm late. I had something to take care of."

"We can talk about it later." His mom said, a strange edge to her voice, "We're supposed to be at The Mayor's in five minutes. You don't have time to change."

"I didn't realize this was a formal affair."

"Come on," His mom urged, "Out the door, in the car, let's go."

 

Mary Margaret was surprised to see Emma and her family coming up the front walk. After what had happened today, she wanted to run and hide, but she knew she couldn't. So she just stood there, waiting for her sister or David to come to the door.

"Hey." Emma said, "Fancy seeing you here."

"I was invited to dinner." Mary Margaret said, matter-of-factly. "I didn't know you would be here."

"Your sister didn't tell you she invited us?"

"She said … company. I didn't know it was you."

And then the mayor opened the door. "Well, looks like everyone's here. Come in from the cold." She said, giving her sister pecks on each cheek. "David, they're here." She called over her shoulder.

David came to greet them, smiling pleasantly at Emma and her family. Mary Margaret rolled her eyes.

"You haven't greeted my sis." The Mayor said.

"Mary Margaret," David said, giving her a nod,

"David." She responded. He gave her a tight smile, which she returned before turning back to her sister. "Where are the children?"

"Getting washed up. They'll meet us in the dining room."

And the group made it's way into the house, preparing to break bread together.

 

David and Snow were working with the sheep, teasing each other as they did when a man came by the house. He was a soldier, and David felt his heart sink the second he saw him. Time froze. Snow ran to get his parents, and when they returned, the man said his piece.

He didn't hear all of it. He couldn't. There was a whirring in his head. But the words, "There was a battle, and James, he was among those who didn't return." Those words echoed in David's head. He ran out across the field to the very end, as if looking for James, expecting him to show up. But there was no James.

And then something broke. David felt it in his gut. He screamed and wailed. He picked up his stick and he banged it on the ground, lashing out at the air in the field, hitting the dirt until the thing snapped in two. He felt arms reach around him from behind and turned to find Snow, her cheeks tearstained, her face grief-stricken.

He ran from her back to the barn and started looking around for things to smash. He threw himself against things. And again, she was there, this time holding him back. She pulled him down to the ground with her until they were both on their knees. And they cried together until they couldn't cry anymore.

 

This was weird. All of Emma's alarm bells were going off. She watched The Mayor's daughter and son scoop up their peas and put them in their mouths. It wasn't that Emma had never heard of good kids, and Henry was pretty well behaved. But still. Kids complained, at least a little. Or they said something slightly rude by accident that could be ignored because they were cute. They didn't just sit quietly and politely eat their vegetables.

Or maybe they did. What did Emma know about kids, anyway? Other than Henry, the only kids she'd ever really known were orphans, like her. And then, of course, there had been Neal, who had been his own brand of weird. Really, she should be used to weird by now.

"So, what is it you do Emma?" The Mayor was asking.

"I'm a social worker," Emma said. Once, it would have been weird to even think. Social workers were the enemy, after all. But then, she had seen a way she could maybe help kids that were like her, and it made sense. Not that she was going to explain all that to The Mayor, her husband, two children, and sister.

"Really? That's fascinating. And what brings you to Storybrooke?"

"We were just … sort of wandering. Henry's in year-round school, so he had time off. And it was my birthday a couple days ago." They hadn't actually done anything for her birthday. They had been so caught up in meeting Jamie and landing in this strange little town. But it wasn't as though it was a particularly special year. Emma had had nice birthdays with her family. She would again.

"Em." She heard Neal say, knowing he was realizing the same thing she had. But she didn't want him feeling bad. Not now. Not until they talked about … everything.

"Happy Birthday," David said kindly. Emma smiled at him, "I wish we'd known. We could've had a cake or something."

"I love birthdays," Mary Margaret said, "Remember your sweet sixteen Selena? It was such a huge bash. I think half the town was there." Selena nodded, "Everybody wanted to celebrate her. Granny pulled out all the stops. And she made her this awesome birthday cake. I always wanted the recipe for that." David rolled his eyes and made a noise, "What?"

"Nothing. I just don't know what you would do with a cake recipe, considering you couldn't afford any of the ingredients. Or is this the part where you ask your sister and me for another handout?"

"You're one to talk. My sister brings in all the money, and you know it. It's her job and her inheritance that you're living off of. The inheritance our parents left her."

"And you think they should have left it to you?"

"David-" Selena started to scold.

"No, she always does this. She acts like she's entitled to everything."

"I am not entitled to everything!"

"You're right, you're not. Do you know why they left her the money, and not you? Because they knew you'd blow it on foolish things. Selena's practical, and you can't hold a job any better than you could keep your GPA up in high school. Despite all that, you still think you're better than everyone."

"Better than you, yes!" Mary Margaret said with a sneer, "Some guy who has never been good enough for my sister, and sees me as some leech."

"You are a leech. You're a leech because you're spoiled. You don't know how to be any other way."

"That's enough!" Emma said, standing, "Not to go into major parent mode here, but I think you two need a time out."

Neither David nor Mary Margaret said anything.

"I'm going to get dessert out of the kitchen. Emma, would you mind helping me?" Selena said. Emma nodded, following her. "Sorry about them. For some reason, my husband and sister have never gotten along. It's just awful really. I wish they wouldn't fight so."

Ever since she was little, Emma had had an instinct about lies. It was like a superpower. And right now, it was telling her that this lady was full of it. She was lying her ass off. For whatever reason, she didn't want her husband and sister to get along. In fact, Emma would wager she reveled in them fighting.

"So, how did you and David out there meet, anyway?"

"Oh, that was incredibly romantic. Love at first sight. But he tells it better. David!" She called as they headed back out with the dessert, "Emma wants to hear how we met."

David's eyes lit up, "It was freshman year of college. I saw her across the grass, and I just … knew. She was so beautiful, so perfect. There was just an instant connection."

Emma nodded. He sounded sincere enough, but there was still something off about this epic love tale, "Where did you go to college?"

"Here."

"Storybrooke has a college?"

"It's a community college, but it's perfectly respectable. David was studying accounting." Selena said proudly.

"It sounds so exciting, doesn't it?" Mary Margaret asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "Accounting! Nothing but math all day long."

"At least I went to college." David snapped back.

"Is that pie?" Emma asked, trying to change the subject.

"Yes. Apple."

Henry, who'd had been quiet for most of the meal, gasped, "You're kidding."

"No. Do you like apple pie?"

Henry shook his head just as Emma said, "Sure he does." She gave him a look, "Henry? You like apple pie."

"Not anymore. I decided that it's … that I don't."

"Okay," Emma said, her confusion growing. "Well, I'll have a slice."

 

"My sister's gone." Snow said, quietly. David hadn't spoken to her, or anyone, these last couple days, but she knew she would find him under the stars. Somehow. "When we were younger, there was a bear that used to come to the palace. The guards would scare it off, but one night, it got in our room somehow, and spirited Rose Red away. A hunting party was sent, but nobody ever found her, or the bear. It's been so many years, my parents and I have had to accept that she's dead. My baby sister."

David nodded his head, "I would say I'm sorry, but I know how useless those words seem." Snow nodded, understanding, "You never did fall in love with him, did you? He went to battle to prove he could be enough so that you might … but you didn't, did you?"

Snow shook her head, tears forming in her eyes, "He was a good friend to me, so kind. I liked him very much. And I wanted to love him that way, but I couldn't … I'm so sorry."

David nodded, "You're not the first princess my brother fell for." Snow looked at him, surprised, "Nobody knows, really. He met her during that year and a half when we ran away. But she chose a nobleman."

Snow shook her head, "And you thought I would be the same?"

"I just never wanted to see him hurt. I thought … I thought I could protect him like he always protected me. We were supposed to look out for each other." David scooped up a rocked and threw it into the field, "I should have gone with him. I should have insisted … we've done things together. We slew a dragon together. If I'd been there-"

"You don't know what could have happened. You don't know that you wouldn't both be dead. He wanted you to stay to look after your family, and they need you now more than ever. They are so sad, so broken. But you can help. Together, you can put your family back together."

 

Mary Margaret and David bickered on and off throughout the rest of the meal. It was strange because David seemed like such a decent guy, but he was such an ass to Mary Margaret, who, as far as Emma could tell, hadn't really done anything wrong. In fact, it seemed like she was kind of down on her luck and could use a friend, and for all she had said to the contrary, her sister didn't seem to be stepping in to fill that role. Maybe Emma could. If Mary Margaret would let her. It was a strange thought, but she felt drawn to the woman. Maybe it was because she knew what it felt like to be so lost, and so alone. Eventually, everything wound down. They said their goodbyes and headed back to their room at the inn.

Mary Margaret was tired. So tired. She loved seeing her sister, but somehow, it never made her feel exactly happy. Maybe it was that judgmental, sensible husband of hers. Mary Margaret had despised him from the first. She made her way back to the theater, wishing she had more of a spring in her step.

She sang to herself softly as she walked.

 

"I just wish you wouldn't invite her over. You have such a kind heart, and people like her take advantage of people like you."

"Oh, you are so sweet. I think I'm going to go to bed now. Would you mind cleaning up?"

David shook his head, watching his wife make her way up the stairs. Then he started on the table. He gathered up the trash and brought it out to the dumpster. As he did, he heard someone singing quietly.

"And it seems to me you lived your life

Like a candle in the wind

Never knowing who to cling to

When the rain set in

And I would have liked to have known you …"

The voice faded off into the distance. It made David sad, somehow, like he was missing something, or losing something. Or maybe it was just the song.

 

Once the Ogre Wars reached King George's reason, Snow knew her family would send for her. She was no longer safe there. They would want to relocate her somewhere else, but she wouldn't have it.

"These are my people, and they're dying. I want to help. I want to help you fight them."

Her father did not want to listen to her, but her mother made him. She was going home with them, and she was going to be part of the war council. After everything that happened, there was nothing she wanted more.

"We're going to miss you around here," David said as he walked her to the waiting royal carriage.

"What, some spoiled Princess? I'm sure you'll do fine without me."

David laughed, "I'm sorry about all that. Maybe you aren't so spoiled after all."

Snow shook her head, "You were trying to protect your brother. I understand. It's what you do, Prince Charming." She curtseyed to him.

"That nickname's sticking?"

"You can bet your life on it." She said, smiling.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye," David said. He leaned forward and planted a kiss on her cheek. Something fluttered in Snow's chest, and her cheeks grew warm. "Princess."

"Charming."

She was helped up to her carriage and took her seat. She was headed home, and she was happy, despite the work to be done. But there was something else, something a little like sadness and longing that stirred in her chest. She watched out the window, seeing David fade from view. Her hand went to her cheek.

 

She still wasn't back. Henry was concerned that Aria still wasn't back. Then he heard a noise, like a moan, coming from beneath his window. He looked down, and there she was, crumpled up, reaching for the rope, but unable to hoist herself up. Her face was red and a little cut up, and she was clutching her side.

"Aria?" He called down.

She looked up at him, wincing, "Henry. Hi. I … I can't …"

"It's okay. I can-"

"Henry, who are you talking to?" His mom said. She had come up behind him, come into his room, and now here she was. She looked out the window too and then ran out the door.

Chapter Text

“She’s beautiful.” Collette said, looking down at the precious baby she had delivered not hours before. It had been a long labor, longer than for either of the baby’s older sisters.

But it had been worth it.

This precious child, so full of life and light, smiled up at her mother and Collette just knew she was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

“She get’s that from you.” Sir Maurice said, looking at his wife with adoration. She had been a champ during the birth, as she always was.

“Look how curious her eyes are.” Collette said, “It’s like she knows, somehow, what a wonderful life awaits her.”

“A beautiful child who will be a beautiful girl, find a good husband-”

“Don’t talk of such things, Maurice. I’m not ready to lose her to a man just yet. She’s only just arrived.” She smiled at him, “What shall we name her.”

“A beauty like that? Why, Belle, of course. What other name would fit?”

“Belle.” Collette said, smiling down at her newborn daughter. “What do you think of the name Purple?” But Purple, the noble family’s patron fairy had gone pale. “Purple? Are you ill?”

She shook her head, “I am so sorry.” She said, her voice shaking, “So very, very sorry.”

“What have you foreseen?” Sir Maurice asked. For Purple had made pronouncements over their first two daughters. She had said that they would grow up loved and marry well. They would amass great riches, and be doted on by their husbands.

“I shouldn’t say. I … I might be wrong.”

“Purple, please,” Collette implored, “We must know. What is the fate of our child?”

“She … she will be beautiful, like her name, and she will be well loved, but …” Purple sighed, shaking her head, “But she is destined to be the wife of a monster.”

And as often happens when such pronouncements are made, there was a flash of lightening, and a crack of thunder as it began to pour outside.

“She will not marry a monster.” Sir Maurice said with more confidence than he felt, “She will not marry anyone. The girl shall never leave the castle grounds.”

 

Emma had been in many foster homes over the years. When she was nine, she lived with a young couple in Manhattan. The man, Mr. Crackle, did something with movies. Emma didn’t understand his business, and he never let her ask questions, but looking back, she’s pretty sure he was a director of low budget plays. His wife was a struggling actress.

They would send Emma to bed early, and then have all of their work friends come over. The men would smoke cigars, and both men and women would drink booze, and stay up schmoozing until all hours of the night. Emma could never sleep through it, so she would watch from the little closet-sized room they had given her. The people looked glamorous, but they acted strange, and the room smelled horrible. But what Emma remembered most about it was that when everybody left, her foster-father would start yelling at her foster-mother. Sometimes he would throw a bottle against the wall so that the glass broke. And then he would go after her foster-mother, sometimes with his hands, sometimes with the broken bottle. And the woman would scream, and scream. And then, the next day, she would limp around and act like nothing had happened. She always looked so sad, and she was clearly in pain, but the one time Emma had asked her about it, she had slapped Emma so hard that she never brought it up again.

Now, helping Aria up off the gravel outside Granny’s, hearing the woman insist that she didn’t need a hospital, Emma couldn’t help but flashback to that time.

“Let’s get you up to the room so you can clean up at least.” Emma said.

“I … I don’t want to be trouble. That is, I don’t -”

“Neal, throw down my winter coat.” Neal obliged, “There,” she said, wrapping the woman up in the coat, “Now nobody will be able to tell anything.“

The woman gave her a grateful nod. The made their way to the room where Emma and Neal were staying, and Emma helped the woman onto the bed. Then, reluctantly, she gave Emma the coat back, reveling her bruised and beaten body. Emma heard a gasp and turned to see Henry at the door.

“Kid, I want you to go back to your room.”

“Mom-”

“I’m not joking around here. Neal! Get him out!”

“Come on kid, let’s go see you’re grandpa in his room downstairs.”

Henry wasn’t the most obedient kid in the world, not when he was passionate about something. She knew it might take a fight to get him to leave, but she couldn’t deal with a fight right now. This woman needed her attention.

By some miracle, Neal was able to get Henry out of the room. She thanked whatever deity existed for Neal and the way he was always there for her.

“You’re lucky that I’m a mother.” Emma said with a forced chuckle as she got her first-aid-kit out of her luggage. “Cuts and scrapes are to be expected with kids, so I always carry the essentials. First things first, alcohol.”

“That sounds great.”

“I meant rubbing alcohol. Cleaning the cuts.”

“Oh.” Emma nodded and started cleaning the woman up as best she did, “I didn’t mean that like it probably, what I mean is, I don’t drink a lot, I just … it’s been a long night.”

Emma nodded, “I get long nights. Believe me.” The woman winced a little, “Sorry for the sting.”

“I’ve had worse.”

“So, I’m Emma by the way.”

“I know.” Emma raised her eyebrow at the woman, “I mean, Henry told me.”

“You know Henry?”

“I … gave him a book.”

“Oh. Yeah, he mentioned that some woman … what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t. But it’s Aria.”

“Broadway bound girl, and now Aria. Musical town.” Emma continued to clean Aria, taking inventory of her wounds. The cuts and scrapes, Emma could take care of; it was possible internal bleeding that worried her. Aria needed to see a real doctor. Problem was, Emma knew what happened next. She would ask Aria who hurt her, and Aria would refuse to tell her. And if she pushed Aria would scamper off faster than you could say assault. Emma didn’t have any kind of authority here. She couldn’t make Aria see a doctor. And if she forced her, she risked losing the woman’s trust. But if she didn’t …

“Do you … have any friends? Someone who might help you out, I mean?” Aria shook her head. Emma sighed. Nobody else she might listen to. It had to be Emma. “Listen, you don’t have to tell me what happened, or who … but you have to see a doctor. You could have internal bleeding, and that can be really dangerous if it goes unchecked.”

Aria shook her head, “People will … ask questions.”

“This wasn’t a random attack, was it? Someone you know did this?” She already knew the answer, even before she asked the question. She had known the second she saw Aria beaten down on the street.

“I thought you said I didn’t have to tell you-”

“I just want to help. And I know how that sounds. I heard it a million times growing up, but I swear, I will not direct you to a doctor and then forget about you. I am here for you. As long as you need. In any way you need.”

“I thought … Henry said you were just visiting.”

“We’re staying.” Emma said, not stopping to think about it, “We’ll stay for as long as we need to.”

“You’re going to move to another state for a stranger.”

“I happen to know two people who once turned their lives upside-down for a stranger. And my job is to help people in bad situations. You’re in a bad situation, and if you need me to stay in town until you’re not anymore, then I’m staying. End of discussion.”

After a minute, Aria nodded, “I’ll see a doctor. But this is going to get complicated.”

 

Something wasn’t right. There was blood on the floor. That had happened before. He had just beaten his wife. That had happened before too. All of these things had happened before, so why did Jack suddenly feel so different? Why did it feel like this was the first time? There had been many nights when he was angry, when he was drunk, when Aria was maddening and he could only think of Selena and what he didn’t have with her. He had done this before. And it had been fine. He had been fine. But now he wasn’t. He heard the sound of his hand hitting flesh echoing in his mind, and somewhere inside him, he believed she deserved it. He really did. But then why did he feel so … guilty? Was that what he was feeling. Why now? Why like this?

He found himself stumbling down to The Rabbit Hole, a local watering hole. He had never actually been there before. He had a reputation in this town, and anyway, he preferred to do his drinking alone. But tonight, he wanted something else. He wasn’t sure what. Maybe he wanted his conscience to shut up, or maybe he wanted to understand why he suddenly felt like he had one.

“What can I get for you?” The man behind the bar asked. He was tall, tan, with bushy hair and a charming smile. Jack loathed him instantly.

“Just something to take the edge off.” Jack said, trying to sound casual.

“Coming right-”

“Ben!” A gruff-looking man approached the bar. The bartender’s eyes widened, “I was planning on going to The Glass Slipper tonight, night out with the boys.”

“That sounds … pleasant.” Ben stuttered.

“Problem is, I’m a little short on cash. So I had an idea. Why don’t I go visit that lowlife Ben and see if he’s got the cash he owes me?”

“Yes, well, I’m working just now, so if you don’t-”

“I don’t think you heard me correctly.” The man said, reaching across the bar and grabbing Ben by the shirt.

It seemed a brawl was about to break out. Would serve the good-looking bartender right to get messed-up a bit. But then, did Jack really need to witness any more violence today. Sure, he could just slip out, but maybe a good deed would help quiet his conscience.

“How much does the lad owe?” He heard himself ask.

“What are you, his mummy, come to save him?”

“I’m just a reasonable man, close personal friend of the mayor, as a matter of fact.” The thug dropped Ben, who got to his feet and made to leave. The thug put his arm out to stop him.

“What’s a ‘close personal friend’ of the mayor’s doing in a dive like this then?”

“I fancied a drink. But I’m tired of this scene. Since you seem so keen on this Glass Slipper place, maybe I’ll try it, see if it’s more my speed. I’d be happy to cover your tab.”

The thug deliberated for a moment, then nodded, “Don’t think I won’t be back, but it looks like your friend here just bought you a day. I wouldn’t waste it.”

As they left The Rabbit Hole, Jack had the strangest sensation in his chest. He didn’t know what it was, or even if he wanted to find out. He had just helped a complete stranger for lord knew why, and something about it felt almost … nice.

 

It was raining outside. Rain. It was so beautiful in a melancholy sort of way. Belle imagined it felt like bathing perhaps, or maybe slightly different. She wasn’t really sure. There was a book she had read where two lovers ran away during a thunderstorm and one is struck down by a lightning bolt. It was a tragedy. But to run in the rain…

Belle had never felt the rain of course. She’d never been allowed outside her father’s castle. Her whole life she had been stuck indoors, with only her parents and her sisters for company. But her sisters would marry soon, and her parents were busy. That would leave her alone. Except, of course, for the books. The books were her greatest friends. She loved them dearly. They told of other worlds and grand adventures, of epic loves and moral tests, of bravery and right overcoming wrong. They told her about the world that she would never see, and she wished so much that she could go out and experience it all for herself.

But that was not an option. Her father feared the pronouncement that had been made at her birth, that she would marry a monster. She was not allowed outside, and nobody outside the castle knew that she existed. Her father wanted no monster to come and try to woo his daughter. She was simply allowed her books. It would be easy to be resentful of the tales that teased her with something she could never have, but she was so grateful for what they brought her. Still, she did get bored, and she did get lonely.

As she examined the castle library, she noticed a book she had not seen before. It was large and brown with the words “Once Upon A Time” written on the cover. But when she opened it, she saw that it was blank. How curious, she thought, closing it, feeling the strangest spark through her fingertips as she did so. She must be imagining things. She must be tired. And so, with the book still in her grasp, she closed her eyes and rested.

 

“Do you want some ice-cream buddy?”

Henry rolled his eyes, “Seriously? There’s a woman injured back at mom’s hotel room and the three of us are going to get ice-cream?”

“Come on. There’s nothing in this world that ice-cream can’t fix. Right Pop?”

Henry’s grandfather nodded.

“This is a big deal. First of all, she’s a friend of mine-”

“What do you mean a friend of yours?” Henry tried to look innocent. He was not successful. “Henry?”

“She’s kind of been hiding out in my hotel room for the past couple days.”

“Henry! How could you … you don’t even know this woman-”

“But she needed help. She was scared, and running away from something, and this town is cursed and we’re here to help people so I had to-”

“What do you mean cursed?” His grandfather asked, looking more interested in the conversation than he had up until this point.

“You wouldn’t believe me.” Henry muttered.

“Henry, whatever you say to me, I will believe.”

Well, his grandfather sounded earnest at any rate, “Okay, so there’s this book. It talks about all the characters from fairytales that I heard about growing up. But the important part is that there was this evil witch, The Wicked Witch, like from The Wizard of Oz, except then she came to the enchanted forest and became The Evil Queen, getting Snow White to eat the poison apple and all that, but then Prince Charming saves Snow White, and they get married-”

“Henry, what does this have to do-?” his father began.

“I’m getting there. So The Evil Queen was mad, and she was defeated by Snow White and Prince Charming, but she was sore loser, and she couldn’t accept it, and she cast this curse to send everybody to another land, a land without magic, where everything would be what she wanted it to be, and everybody would forget who they were and just be how she wanted them-”

“Henry-”

“Let him continue.” His grandfather said, urgency in his voice.

“But Snow White and Prince Charming found out that the curse can be broken. The Blue Fairy told them how. They had to send their daughter to our world, separate from the curse, and then she would come back and break it.”

Both his dad and his granddad were silent for a moment. Finally, leaning down, his father said, “But Henry, even if that were true, what would it have to do with us. If Snow White’s daughter-”

“But I forgot the most important part. She was supposed to come back on her twenty-eighth birthday, and that’s when we got here, when mom turned twenty-eight. And they named their daughter Emma and wrapped her up in a baby blanket with her name on it, so people would know what to call her. So don’t you see? It’s mom. She’s the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming! She’s supposed to break the curse! She’s the Savior.”

His dad looked like he had been slapped. He started to stumble back. “No. No! Emma can’t be … from there.” There was a tone of disgust as he said the last two words.

“I know it sounds crazy. I thought so too at first. But too many things add up and … please, please just consider-”

“I believe you Henry.” His grandfather said. Now Henry stepped back, surprised.

“You do?”

“Yes, and your father … your father will come around.” He looked over at Henry’s father who was just standing there staring off at nothing with a look of terror on his face, “But I think we best not tell your mom about this yet. She won’t take to it as easily as I am.”

“I know that.” Henry said, smiling and rolling his eyes, “I know how mom is. But we’ll have to tell her eventually. She can’t break the curse if she doesn’t know.”

 

The car-ride had been silent. Emma hadn’t wanted to risk the tentative trust she seemed to have gained. Aria was obviously still skittish, and one wrong word could have her heading off in the wrong direction. When they got to the hospital though, she had to take charge.

“Well just look at you sweetie. What happened?” The receptionist asked.

When Aria didn’t answer, Emma said, “Can we see a doctor please.”

The receptionist nodded, “It’s a slow day, so there shouldn’t be much of a wait. Why don’t you just fill out this form?”

Emma took the form when Aria didn’t. “So I can fill this out for you, but you’re going to need to answer the questions still. Like, your last name.” Aria’s eyes widened. She looked ready to run, “It’s just for their records.”

“I know, but my husband’s well-known in this town and I don’t want him … to worry.” The last few words came out a little weaker than the first.

“We don’t have to deal with that right now. Think of this as a step-by-step thing. You just have to worry about the next step. Don’t worry about what might happen down the line, or even later today. Just deal with answering these questions.”

Wincing, Aria stuttered out, “Scathe. My last name is Scathe.”

“Date of birth?” Aria told her, “Do you have insurance?”

“I … don’t know.”

“Well, I wish we could leave it blank, but it’s kind of an important one.”

“I … I don’t think I’m covered, but I’ll figure out how to pay somehow.”

Emma nodded, and they continued down the list. Married, and he doesn’t even have her covered under his insurance? Or was Aria just scared to call him. Either way, the guy was clearly a bastard. But then, Emma knew that the second she saw those bruises.

Before long, the paper was filled out, and they were sent back to see the doctor. “Hello Aria,” said a kindly looking woman, “My name is Dr. Plum. Why don’t you tell me why you’re here today?”

“I … had an accident? I mean, it wasn’t an accident, obviously. I was … attacked … by a stranger. A strange man. I didn’t see his face.”

“Well that’s horrible. I’ve never heard of anything like that happening in Storybrooke. Have you spoken with The Mayor?”

Emma snorted, “Why would she tell The Mayor?” Dr. Plum shot her a look, “I mean, wouldn’t law enforcement … in a town like this, you must have a sheriff or a-”

“We do, but The Mayor cares what happens to all of us. And Mr. Scathe is her personal assistant, so I’m sure she’d be especially interested. That’s you’re husband, isn’t it? Mr. Scathe?”

Aria winced again, mumbling out a weak yes.

“I’ve met him. He’s a very charming man.”

“They always are.” Emma said under her breath.

“Beg pardon?”

Emma opened her mouth, but Aria shot her a desperate look, “Husbands. Charming. I mean, mine is so …”

“Yes. You’re that new family passing through, aren’t you?”

“Yes. But, we’re actually going to be sticking around for a bit. There are worst places to settle.”

“Settle? Interesting. Excuse me, Aria, I just have to make a quick call. Hospital business.”

Aria nodded, and Dr. Plum made her way out of the office, Emma eyeing her the whole way. Once she was gone, Aria turned to Emma, “Please stop.”

“I’m just trying-”

“You don’t know what life here is like. This town … it’s not as pleasant as everyone says. Not for all of us.”

“So you’re not in love with The Mayor?”

“My husband is.” Aria said quietly. Emma’s mouth formed an O. “He wants to be with her, and he hates me for being the reason that he can’t.”

“Why do you stay with him?”

“I … I just don’t feel like I have any other choice. I have to stay with him.”

“Just picture, for a second, that you didn’t. Just picture that you left. What’s the worst that could happen? I mean, it doesn’t even sound like he wants you to stay, and if you both want out-”

“It’s not that simple.”

“I know. It’s never simple. But you were wrong when you said you don’t have a choice. Only you can decide your fate.”

“My fate was decided for me a long time ago, Emma. I was always meant for this life. There was never another choice.”

 

She didn’t remember how she got here. It wasn’t her father’s palace, for sure. She knew every inch of that place. No, this was somewhere else. It was a palace, but of a different sort. It was grand to be sure. It was almost scary how grand it was. The ceilings were higher than any Belle had ever seen. And there was a spinning wheel in the corner.

“Who are you?” A voice asked, “What are you doing here?”

Belle spun around, but she could not see anyone. “Who’s there?”

“This is my castle. You are not welcome!” There was a strangeness to the voice, something powerful, and terrifying, yet somehow … silly. It thrilled Belle.

“Is that a threat?”

“It might be.”

“And what is a great ominous voice from nowhere going to do to me?”

“I’m much more than that Dearie, I assure you.”

“Well, whatever you are, you’re very rude. Yelling at me for stumbling on your castle. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I’m certainly not going to flee into the night because a voice tells me to.”

“You are either very brave, or very stupid.”

Belle smiled, “I’ll choose to take the compliment, if you don’t mind.”

“If you don’t fear me, perhaps I should introduce myself. My name is Rumpelstiltskin. I am … The Dark One.”

“Is that supposed to mean something to me? I’ve never heard of any ‘Dark One.’”

“You haven’t?” He sounded mystified.

“No. And if you ask me, it’s a terrible name. All full of mystery, I suppose, but also very general. Why not just have people call you Rumpelstiltskin. That’s the better name, I think.”

“You like it?”

“Well, it’s unique. I’ve never heard it’s like before. And mother always said that names tell you something about a person.”

“I’m not a person.”

“Right. You’re a voice.”

“No. I’m The Dark One.”

“And I told you, that means nothing to me.”

“Have you ever heard of Beowulf?”

“Of course. He was a hero of The First Ogres War.”

“Well, I killed him. Of course, he was a bit of a prick. Incidentally, I killed the Ogres too.”

“So you’re some kind of hero then?”

“No! Weren’t you listening? I murdered someone. I am a monster, and you’d do well to be frightened of me.”

“Well, you were obviously very powerful in your day, if you could do that. But truthfully, there’s nothing conclusive in the history books as to just what it was that ended The First Ogres War, and anyway, that was almost three centuries ago.”

“What? It was last year.”

“Oh dear. You’re clearly confused. I don’t suppose I can trust anything you say. This whole Dark One business. Why, this may not even be your castle.”

“It is my castle! I dreamed up the perfect … dream. You’re a dream. That’s what’s going on, isn’t it? This is a dream, and you’re a figment, like Zoso. That’s why you’re not afraid of me.”

“I’m not afraid of you because a voice is only so scary, and I don’t know who Zoso is, but I promise you, I am real!”

The voice laughed, it was a strange and frightful noise, “Well, if you’re a dream, I suppose you’re harmless. You’re better company than Zoso, at any rate, even if you are argumentative. What’s your name figment?”

“I’m not a figment, and my name is Belle.”

“Belle. Well, Belle, enjoy haunting my castle. But in time, I will find a way to make you fear me, figment or no.”

Belle smiled, “That sounds like a challenge. All right, Rumpelstiltskin, give me the best you’ve got.”

Right after she said it, the wind started to wail. The windows and shutters shook. As much as she hated to admit it, it actually was quite frightening. So frightening in fact, that Belle bolted awake.

“What a strange dream,” she said, picking up the book on her lap. But as she moved to close it, she noticed it was no longer blank. Filling the early pages was a picture of her in the castle from her dream. Next to it was the beginnings of a story. It detailed her dream, the dialogue matching word for word, and stopping short when she woke up. Belle flipped to the page before the picture, and read the title “Beauty and the Beast.”

 

Jack had never been to The Glass Slipper before, but he had heard stories. For the most part they were favorable. Yes, it was a strip club, but it was high-class in its way. The girls seemed elegant and untouchable, the guests were given champagne, the whole feel of the place was very royal. When he entered, he found it was pretty much what he would have expected. The place was positively medieval, like something out of a storybook. It was hardly the seedy place one would expect to find when seeking “female companionship.” But then, Selena would put a stop to something like that right away if it ever cropped up. She wouldn’t allow anything bad in her town. She would always protect them. Jack thought of her warm smile, her beautiful red hair. What would she think of him, if she knew he had wandered into a place like this? Well, he had done his good deed. He had come in and paid for the lads who had been after that bartender. He could leave now. Nobody ever need know … Selena never need know.

“What’s your pleasure?” A blonde man behind the bar asked.

“I thought it was just champagne in this place.”

“Well, we have it, but there are other options.”

Jack shook his head, “Champagne’s fine mate.” Best to keep his wits about him. “Actually, I think I’ll just-”

The place went dark. Lights danced around. A royal march began to play.

“Presenting, The Red Queen.”

Out on stage came a woman if finery, jewels, and a little red crown. She was every bit a royal, practically plucked right out of Alice in Wonderland. That had always been Jack’s favorite book, and as he looked at this girl, she looked just like he had always imagined The Red Queen would look if she were real. She started to dance, and Jack felt himself gulp.

“As I was saying, I’ll just get going then.” He made for the door.

The music stopped. He turned and saw The Red Queen staring him down, “Sorry Dahlings, but it seems someone is leaving before I’m finished. Can’t have that now, can we?” She turned to her right, “Off with his head.”

Jack glanced at the bartender, “She likes theatrics. Don’t worry. You’re just a prop.” Well. That was a little insulting.

When he glanced back at The Red Queen he saw she was holding what looked like some kind of weapon, twirling it like a baton. She threw it at him, and he ducked. The bartender caught it, his eyes meeting The Red Queen’s. She gave a nod. Jack didn’t want to see more, he ran for the exit, ignoring the cheers behind him.

When he was finally clear, he straitened himself up and started for home, knowing he would never set foot in that madhouse again.

 

“Well, Aria, it appears you're going to be okay. No internal bleeding, no permanent damage. Just surface stuff. You'll be fine.” Emma and Aria both noticeably relaxed.

“So I can go then?”

“Not just yet. Sheriff Humbert will be here in a moment to take your statement. ”

“What?” Aria asked, shooting a panicked glance at Emma.

“You said you were attacked by a strange man. I was obligated to report it. We can't have a criminal like that roaming the streets of Storybrooke, no can we?”

“I suppose … all right. I'll talk to him. But I didn't really see what the man looked like. Could've been a strong woman for all I know.”

“Regardless, it's sheriff's business now. I'm sure we'll all sleep safer knowing Sheriff Humbert is on the job.”

She left the room, presumably to get the sheriff.

“What do I … Emma, what do I do?”

“You could always-”

“I can't tell him the truth. Jack … I just can't.”

“But if you lie to him, it'll start a manhunt for a non-existent criminal. Isn't that a waste of the sheriff's time?”

“Please. You said you understood. Didn't you ever lie to a sheriff?”

“The cops … yeah, I fed them some stories in my day. They weren't equipped to help me, and I thought I knew better. But I actually can help you, if you let me.”

“Then please, help. But don't make me tell him-”

“Hello Ladies.” An attractive, tall man with scruff and an accent said as he came in the room. “Aria, are you all right?”

“I will be, Graham. Just a little banged up is all. No harm done.”

Graham gave Aria a kind smile, “Well, can you describe the man who attacked you?”

“He was … short, not little-person short, just, not particularly tall. He wore a mask and … oh, I don't know. It all happened so fast.”

“She's had a long day.” Emma supplied, “Maybe this isn't the best time for this.”

“Ah, I didn't see you there, Miss?”

“Mrs., actually, Mrs. Emma Stiltskin.”

“Stiltskin? Really?”

“I know, it's a weird name.”

“So how about I just call you Emma then?”

“As long as you don't forget the Mrs. part, that's fine with me.”

“If I can interrupt, I'd really like to get out of here.”

Graham turned back to her, his expression softening, “Of course. Well, if you remember anything, you know where my office is.” He put his hand on her shoulder and she flinched back slightly, “I … I will catch the person who attacked you Aria. I promise.”

“Thanks.” Aria said, offering a weak smile.

 

When Jack got home, he felt worse than when he left. Today, it seemed, was the strangest day he had had in a long time.

He went to the refrigerator, took out a beer, and took a seat on the sofa. As he drank, he thought about his life. How did he end up here? And where was his wife. It seemed she was not home once again. Maybe she had fallen in a ditch somewhere. He recalled the remorse he had felt earlier after beating her. It was mostly gone now. She had deserved it, hadn't she? He was empty, and lost, and unable to pursue the woman he loved. If his wife was not to blame, then who was?

The beer was soothing. Perhaps today was not a total waste. Still, he did not expect that he would be taking a day off again for a long time. The days when he didn't see Selena were almost unbearable. Even knowing he couldn't be with her, it was always better to be around her.

His phone rang, and his heartbeat picked up as he saw who was calling, “Good'ay Madam Mayor.” He said, hoping his words didn't slur. He hadn't had that much to drink just yet, so it should be fine.

“Mr. Scathe, I was just calling to see how poor Aria was coping.”

“What'd'ya mean?”

“Oh, have you not heard. You're wife was attacked by some villain roaming the streets. The sheriff is on it of course, but still, the whole thing is horrible. It has me in such a state.”

“Aria … Aria was attacked.”

“It must be horrible for you, hearing of it like this. She was at the hospital today getting checked out. I haven't gotten a chance to see her yet, but I heard she injured quite badly. I hate to think of the monster who would do that to your poor wife.”

“Yeah, to my poor ...” Jack was trying to think. What could he do? Aria had seen a doctor, and now the town … but he was not a suspect. The town thought this was a random attack.

“It's terribly frightening, thinking there's someone so dangerous out there.”

“Don't be scared. I could come over, keep ya safe.”

“Oh, I couldn't ask you to do that. You should be with your wife at a time like this, tend to her needs. She's very lucky indeed to have you there for her, just as I am to have David. It's times like these a woman realizes just how lucky she is to have a strong man to take care of her. And David is certainly strong. He can protect me quite well. I'm probably worrying over nothing. I have a husband who loves me, and who would tear any other man to shreds. The man who hurt Aria could never stand against him.”

“You're probably right.” Jack said, a bitter taste in his mouth, “Still, until he gets home, let me-”

“You are to be with your wife, and that is the last I want to hear on the subject. And do let me know if there is anything I can do to help, yes?”

“Right. Yeah.”

“Cheers then.”

“Cheers.”

Jack sat and stewed. He wasn't sure what made him angrier, that Aria had the nerve to go to a doctor, or the image of David protecting Selena. Well, it seemed he should go track Aria down and play the worried, dutiful husband. And afterward, they were going to have a talk.

 

“Are you not tired of trying to scare me?” Belle asked, examining the arrow that had just flown past her head into the wall. It had been many months since that first dream, and Belle was growing quite used to this castle, and the voice that claimed to own it. He always came up with something theatrical. Today it was flaming arrows.

“You're not as brave as you claim to be. You have been scared at times.” He said.

“I never claimed to be brave. But I can claim that I am not stupid. I know these are dreams. Dreams of a mystical sort, surely, but dreams all the same.”

“You can tremble in a dream dearie, just the same as in life.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps you can even die in them. But I started to think about that, and you know what I realized? For all your attempts to scare me, you've never actually harmed me. You throw things at me, but they always miss their target. You can't hurt me, or else you don't want to. And if I can't be harmed in these dreams, I have no reason to feel afraid.”

“Why wouldn't I want to hurt you?”

“I think you're lonely.”

“Lonely. Ha! I am not alone. I have my son, the only family I need.”

“I didn't know you had a son.” The voice didn't answer, “Will you … will you tell me about him?”

“Why?”

“Well, I'm curious. I don't get to talk to many people.”

It seemed, for a moment, like he wouldn't answer, but then, “His name is Baelfire. He's a brave boy, always wanting to prove himself. He likes adventure. And he's smarter, far smarter than I was at his age. I think … I think sometimes he wants more than the life we have. That's why I dreamt up this castle, you see. I would work it out in my mind, work out what it would look like and how big it would be, then I would find a spot, use my magic, and create it. We could have servants that would treat Bae like a prince, he could wear a crown, he could have everything … ”

“How old is your son?”

“He's fourteen.”

“Well, this is a grand castle, truly, but I'm not sure that there is much about it that an adventurous fourteen-year-old would find exciting.”

“How dare you-?”

“You want him to be happy. I understand that, and it's admirable, but I do have some experience with being shut up in a castle, and I don't think it's necessarily the solution you're looking for-”

“The word solution implies there is a problem. I give my son everything.”

“But does he want to live in a castle?”

“Why wouldn't he?”

“Castles can be stifling, overwhelming … lonely.”

“How can he be lonely when we're together?”

“I had my parents my whole life, and I love them both dearly, but people need … people. They need to be able to go out and live, to have adventures, to see the world.”

“You think I should take him traveling?”

“I think that you should ask him what he wants. Oh, I'm not saying children have all the answers. What he wants may not be what is best for him, but if it's good for him, and what he wants, well nothing can make you a hero in his eyes more than to give him exactly that.”

“I tried to be a hero. It didn't take. I'm a monster, after all.”

“And why can't you be both? Didn't you say you ended The First Ogre Wars? Why does that not make you a hero?”

“Because I am The Dark One.”

“But what does that mean?”

“It's a very old curse. I took it on to save Bae. Being The Dark One means having unthinkable power. Nobody can stand up to me. But there is a price. The fear on their faces, the darkness in my soul. The man I was before, he was a coward who ran from war. The man I am now can take a life without blinking, and I do. I may not have harmed you Dearie, but make no mistake, I have harmed. I have killed. And I have liked it. How can that not make me a monster? I've learned to live with these things. There is power in having people fear you, power in knowing you can crush any man. Rumpelstiltskin was weak, and I am strong.”

“But it sounds like a part of you doesn't want it, this darkness. You don't want to kill. Or you don't want to like it.”

“Want means nothing. I am what I am.”

“If you believe that, you'll never have the life you want. We can change our fate.”

“The last time I tried to change my fate, it cost me my foot, my honor, and I fear my wife.”

“But you can't just give up. You said your son is brave. What would he do?”

“I am not my son?”

“What would he do?”

“He would try to fight. But Belle, there are some battles you cannot win.”

“That's a great reason to not try.”

“Belle-”

“You're not resigned to your fate, and neither am I. It's time we both set out to change what fate has in store for us.”

“How?”

“We'll help each other. We'll be there for each other. If you need a reminder, if you need help being strong, just close your eyes, and you'll find me here.”

“And you think you can talk me round?”

“Is that not what I'm doing right now? Come on Rumple, let's both make a change. We can have the lives we want.”

“I suppose that could … you promise you'll be here?”

“Forever.”

 

“Thanks for bringing it out to me,” Aria said as she took the burger that Emma had gotten her from Granny’s, “I just don’t want to have to face everyone in there right now.”

“You know this isn’t your fault, right? That you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Aria shook her head, “I’d rather just … just eat, and not talk about it right now.”

Emma nodded, “Fair enough.”

They sat on a bench in companionable silence for a little while.

“Aria!” Both girls looked up at the voice. A man was running up to them, out of breath and looking frantic, “I heard what happened. Are you all right?” He came to a stop, and put his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.

Emma looked the guy up and down. He wasn’t handsome enough to pull off a good con, but he might make a good thief. Based on his fake concern for Aria, she had a feeling his crime was something else entirely.

He came over to Aria and enveloped her in a hug, causing the other woman to wince slightly. The man took a step back from her, “He must’ve hurt’cha bad, this bloke?”

Aria nodded, “How did you … I mean-?”

“The Mayor rang me. Told me everything.”

“Of course. Well … thank you for coming then. I …”

“We should get home. I’ll make you some tea and we can … talk … about what happened.”

“You don’t have to, that is, Aria, if you need a place to crash tonight-”

“She’s my wife. I’ll look after her, thanks. And who are you, anyway?”

“Emma. A friend of Aria’s.”

He blinked twice, “Right. Well, don’t you worry none, Emma. I’ll have her home, safe and sound.”

“It’s all right, Emma, really.” Aria said. Emma wondered if Aria actually believed that.

“All right well, you have my number. If you need anything, a place to crash or … just call me, okay?”

Aria nodded. Then her husband put his arm around her shoulder and led her away.

 

“I just can’t believe it.” David said as he loaded the dishwasher, “In our town. Stuff like this never happens in our town.”

“I’m as upset as you are.” Zelena said. And she was, but not because of the little tart. After all, she had programmed the thief to hit her, so she expected it. And the girl going to the hospital was moronic, but not something that really inconvenienced her in any way. No, she was concerned because that fairy had told her that the newcomers were planning to settle. When had that happened? Why had that happened? Whatever the answers, they could not be good. Although, the elderly gentleman intrigued Zelena. She could smell power on him. He could be useful. Of course, he could also be dangerous, but it was best to cross that bridge when she came to it.

“Did Graham say if she had been … well … violated?” David winced and blushed. He was so innocent at times, so very bland. Sometimes Zelena wondered why she kept him around. But of course, it was to keep him away from that goody-two-shoes wife of his. She could probably get away with having an affair though. He was too loyal to leave her, even if she did that. The utter fool. And if she broke his heart, all the better.

“I don’t know. The whole thing is just awful.”

“We should invite the Scathes over, show our support.

The thief would hate that. Having to play the caring husband in front of her while David doted, “That sounds like a lovely idea. Aren’t you thoughtful.”

“I try.” David paused, scrunching up his forehead, “I hate to even suggest this …”

“Yes? Come on, out with it David.”

“It’s just, nothing like this ever happened before. And then, a new family comes to town, and suddenly … you don’t suppose it was one of the Stilskins?”

Now that was an idea. “I certainly hope not. It would be just dreadful. But … I suppose it would make sense.”

“I mean, they seemed nice enough when we had them over-”

“Why don’t we just … keep an eye on them. And then, if it seems … prudent, go to the sheriff with your suspicions.”

“That sounds reasonable.”

“Great. Now let’s head to bed. All this talk of attack has left me in need of some … comforting.”

 

Mary Margaret had been looking for job postings at Storybrooke’s Community Center when she heard the news. A woman had been attacked on the street. Nobody knew who had done it, but she had been beaten up pretty badly. How badly, well, it was hard to say. The rumor mill had the tale now, and any part of it could be fabricated. Some said the girl was mostly fine, others that she had been beaten within an inch of her life. Either way, it made Mary Margaret feel a little less safe on her walk back to the theater. Which was why she was relieved when she heard an Irish voice call her name as a familiar man fell into step beside her.

“Good evening Graham.” She said, companionably.

“Is it?”

“Graham, what’s wrong?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard by now. The attack?” Graham closed his eyes, bit his lip, and shook his head, “How could this happen? How could I not stop it?”

“You can’t blame yourself for … Graham, it wasn’t your fault.” Mary Margaret said, putting her hand on his arm. He looked down at it for a minute, then shook his head again.

“It’s my job to protect the people of Storybrooke. I failed at that today.”

“No-”

“I appreciate your kindness Mary Margaret. I always have.” He gave her a charming smile, “Why don’t you let me walk you home. Make sure you get there safe.”

“Oh … well, I … I wasn’t going to, that is, I was heading to the old theater for, for-”

“Let me walk you there then. You shouldn’t be out this late alone.”

Mary Margaret shook her head, “That’s really not necessary Graham. I’ll manage.”

“I just want to know that you’re safe. You know that I … that is, that I care about you. About what happens to you.” Graham cleared his throat, avoiding her gaze.

Mary Margaret smiled, “You’re a good friend, Graham.”

“But that’s all I’ll ever be, isn’t it?” It came out quiet, but she heard him, whether he meant her to or not.

“Graham we’ve … we’ve talked about this. You’re a great guy, and I care about you a lot, but I’m not the settling down sort. I need to be free to spread my wings, to live my life, find adventures. That’s not you. You want a family. You want to settle down. You know I can’t give you that.”

Graham nodded, “I just wish things were different. Because I would take good care of you, you know. I would protect you.”

She touched the palm of her hand to the left side of his face, and he closed his eyes, “Oh Graham, I know. But I just need more than that.”

They stood like that for a minute, and then she took her hand back. They walked in silence for the rest of the way. “Well, here we are then. The old theater. What are you planning on doing here at this hour?”

“Just … catching a flick.”

Graham nodded, “Well, if you need anything, don’t hesitate to-”

“I won’t.” She said, standing up on his tiptoes to give him a kiss on the cheek. Graham smiled, trying to hide his disappointment. At least he got her back safely. That was the important thing.

And for her part, Mary Margaret was grateful. She wished she could care for Graham as he did for her. He was such a dear friend, and certainly attractive. If all he wanted from her was one night, or a fling. She could certainly be persuaded into a friends-with-benefits sort of thing. But that’s not what he wanted from her. He wanted a settled, family life. Mary Margaret was anything but settled, and she had no desire to start a family. No, Graham was not for her. She just wished she knew who was.

 

Selena was sleeping soundly, but David felt restless. It just wasn’t right. How could this happen? How could they be in this kind of danger? Maybe people who lived in cities like New York went to sleep at night with the knowledge that there were dangerous people on the streets, that those they loved could be lost or hurt, but David wasn’t used to it. This was Storybrooke for goodness sake. Selena had worked so hard to keep everyone happy, healthy, and safe, and now …

He thought of his two beautiful children, asleep in their beds, unaware of the danger. They needed to be safe.

David wandered down the hall and took a peek at his daughter and son. They looked so peaceful, so innocent. He owed it to them to keep them safe. He couldn’t let them down. With new purpose, David kissed the foreheads of his children, quietly closed the door to their bedroom, and headed out of the house.

 

“Well, here we are then.” Aria said, “Home sweet home at long last.” She didn’t know why she was babbling like this. It was stupid really. It might just provoke him. But he had been silent the whole way home, ever since they left Emma on the sidewalk staring after them. Because Aria was certain. She appreciated Emma’s concern, really she did, but what could Emma really do?

So she had gone home with him, and he had been silent, looking to all who might see them as the concerned, doting husband. Now they were home, away from prying eyes, and if he were going to lash out … but there was really know if. She knew it was coming. It was only a matter of when, and how bad.

“What do you want me to say?” he finally said, and for a moment, Aria wondered if he actually wanted to know.

“You could say sorry.” The words slipped out before she had a chance to stop them. She regretted them instantly, but the damage was done.

“Sorry? Are you bloody out of your mind? After what you pulled today-”

“Well, what did you expect? If I hadn’t seen a doctor-”

“You’ve been fine before. But suddenly, you decide to be brave. You’ve only ever been a sniveling little coward, but today you decide to get up the courage to be stupid!”

Aria shook her head, tears in her eyes, “Please. Please don’t-”

“What, you think I’ll smack you around now, today of all days? You think I’m that daft.” Aria started. Was he scared? Could what happened today be enough of a threat to make him back off. “Oi, I can see what you’re thinkin’, and I wouldn’t if I was you. Jus’ ‘cause I’m not gonna stir the pot today doesn’t mean you can go off and do whatever you want. I will do whatever I have to to keep you quiet and agreeable. Do we understand each other?”

With a small sob, Aria nodded, and Jack left her there, shaking. Why could she never be brave? Why could she never stand up for herself? Maybe because that would only make it worse. Emma seemed to think otherwise. But Emma was wrong. She had to be. Aria’s life would always be this. She would never escape, never be free.

 

“It’s like I’m a prisoner! Not even like, I am one.”

“Belle, lower your voice,” Sir Maurice said.

Belle nodded, gathering herself. She had come in with a purpose, and she planned to get what she wanted, but not by shouting. She was not some brat stamping her foot. She was nearly grown woman, and she simply wanted the rights that any lady of Avonlea had been given. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. But Papa, you’ve got to understand. Keeping me from the world … what kind of life is that. It’s no life at all.”

“I just want-”

“You want to protect me. You want to keep me safe from a monster. But there are all kinds of monsters. Loneliness is a monster, Papa, and I’m tired of being married to it.”

“Belle-”

“If it is my fate, than nothing can be done to stop it. Isn’t it better that I had a good life? Isn’t it better that I get to be happy while I still have a chance to be? Isn’t it better I learn to fight, to defend myself against-?”

“You certainly won’t be learning to fight! Belle-”

“Now you’re shouting. And Papa, I hear you. I’ve always heard you. Now hear me. My sisters have married, and left behind their horses. I have always wanted to learn to ride. So I will go down to the stable, I will mount a horse, and I will ride it. I will ride around the stable, and then the field, and some day, I will ride into town. And if I find a monster there, I will not make him my husband. But I will not let anyone, no monster, not even you, dictate my fate, and keep me from living life.”

“Belle-”

“Maurice,” Collete said, putting her hand on her husband’s arm, “Perhaps it’s time. We must let the girl live.”

Maurice sighed, “Well, I know when I’m out-voted. Very well, you may learn to ride, with an instructor’s aid, of course. You may ride around the grounds, and in time … we can discuss town.”

“Thank you Papa.”

“Actually,” Colette said, standing, “I was quite the rider in my day. How would you like for me to teach you Belle?”

“I would love that.”

 

How could the sheriff’s station be closed? What if there was an emergency? David was steaming. He felt … well, he wasn’t sure. He was angry, but mostly he just felt helpless.

He decided to go walking, try to clear his head. Maybe it would calm him down until tomorrow, until he could speak with the sheriff.

David didn’t really know where he was going. He just wandered. It wasn’t like he didn’t know every inch of this town. It was just that he wasn’t giving it much thought. And then he heard it, a soft melody coming from the old theater.

“I see you through the smoky air

Can't you feel the weight of my stare?

You're so close but still a world away

What I'm dying to say, is that …”

It was strange. Who would be singing in the old theater at this hour? But, for whatever reason, it did bring a smile to David’s face. A part of him wanted to walk through the door and find out who was singing. Maybe it was better, though, to just leave it a mystery. Maybe he would be happier never knowing who was singing, or why his heart sped up when he heard it.

David started home, whistling as he went.

 

Emma was exhausted. It had been an incredibly long day. She hated leaving Aria alone with her husband, but it seemed there was no convincing her otherwise. Not at this point at least. She wondered how Neal, Jack, and Henry would feel when she told them that they would be staying in Storybrooke. Well, Henry would be happy. She was sure of that. Neal and Jack, she wasn’t so sure. Only time would tell.

Neal had certainly been different since they got here, since they met that woman. But Emma had nothing to worry about.

She knew that.

Yes, she had spent the first fourteen years of her life being abandoned, but in the fourteen years that followed, the Stilskins had not abandoned her once. And yes, Neal had his secrets, but she trusted him.

She did.

At least, she wanted to.

“We brought dinner.” Jack said as Henry ran through the door.

“And we brought you ice-cream.” Henry added, handing his mom a cup of Rocky Road.

“Should I assume you are waiting until after dinner to have yours, or-”

“It’s not like I’m not still having dinner. I’ll eat my vegetables.”

“You got vegetables?”

“Potatoes. Okay, technically French fries, but, it’s from a diner. What kind of vegetables can you find in a diner?”

Emma shook her head, “I’ll let it slide. Actually, I wanted to talk to you guys about something.”

Henry and his grandfather settled into seats by Emma. Neal was still standing by the door, watching her.

“Shoot.” Henry said, taking out his burger.

“Well, how would you guys feel about staying here a little longer, in a little bit of a … more permanent way?”

Henry’s eyes lit up, “You mean it?”

Emma nodded, “I think that we’ve had enough city life for a while. Your dad and I grew up in a place not unlike this one, and it was nice … I think it could be good for you, for all of us. You could transfer and … how do you feel about it?”

“Are you kidding? This is the best news ever!” Henry said, hugging her.

“Okay kid, calm down.”

Henry just smiled, and turned to face his grandfather, who smiled back. “It seems the jury has spoken.”

Emma smiled too, “Are you cool with this? I mean -”

“There’s little I’m leaving behind. All I need is right in this room. And it’s not the first time I’ve started over without looking back.”

“Thanks Jack. That’s … I appreciate it.”

Jack nodded, then shot a look at his son, who still hadn’t spoken. “Henry, why don’t you go get your book from your room, and we can look over it together?” Henry nodded, gave Emma another hug, and bounded off. “I’ll wait outside, for the lad.”

Once he was gone, Emma waited for Neal to say something, but he just kept staring at her. She couldn’t read his expression. When had he become so inscrutable?

“You’re quiet?”

“What do you want me to say, Emma? How could you just decide this for us?”

“I didn’t just … no, you’re right. I should have discussed it with you first. But there’s a woman here in an abusive relationship, and she needs someone to-”

“Save her?”

“Why are you yelling at me?”

“Because!” Neal started to pace, “What about you’re job?”

“I already called them. I told them I need to relocate, and their looking to have me transferred to a branch around here.”

“So you have it all figured out, don’t you? It just fits perfectly, like fate?”

“No, but, I’m needed-”

“No! Don’t say that! You weren’t supposed to be … This wasn’t supposed to be … you don’t get to do this!”

“Look, we can talk about it, okay. And if you hate it that much … it’s just, Neal I feel like I’m supposed to be here, and I want to help. You taught me the value of that, of helping strangers who need it. Remember that? Remember when we met as kids and-”

“And you came bursting into my life like this mythical … but you weren’t supposed to actually be mythical! You weren’t supposed to be … Emma, do you know how hard I’ve tried to run from – do you have any idea – I can’t – I just can’t -”

“Neal-?”

“I can’t deal with this right now.”

And then he was out the door. Emma had no clue what had just happened, but she felt an ache in her chest that was remarkably familiar, and made her feel so unbelievably thirteen.

“You’re awfully quiet.” Belle said, as she glanced around Rumpelstiltskin’s castle. She had been here, dreaming presumably, for quite a bit longer than she usually was without hearing him. He had said nothing, and Belle feared …

It had been a good day. She had finally ridden into town. So much had changed over the past year. She no longer felt like a prisoner. She felt happy. And a part of that was the freedom she had earned, but a part of it also had to do with this man in her dreams, this man who claimed to be a monster. So his silence concerned her.

“I am here.” He finally said.

“Are you? And why haven’t you said anything?”

“I … something has happened. My son wants … he believes he has found a way to rid me of this curse.”

“To-?”

“To make me a man again. A way that is safe. A place we can go where I will be human.”

Belle didn’t know what to say.

“I promised him.” Rumpelstiltskin continued after a minute or two of silence, “I promised him I would. I didn’t think he would actually find a way.”

“You don’t want to be human again?”

“When I was a man, what was I? A coward? A peasant? A burden? I was nothing Belle, and I was loved by no one. I was always left behind.”

“Rumple, that’s not … you’re son. You’re son loved you, before. He wouldn’t want to go back if he didn’t.”

“It will take so much … strength, to do this for him. And I fear I haven’t-”

“You have strength, and you have courage. I know, because that is what you have given me: strength, and courage, to fight for the life I want.”

“And if I don’t have enough-”

“Then I’ll lend you some of mine. I promised you forever, Rumple. I will always be here, the shoulder that you can lean on, the strength you need to find in yourself.”

“The angel on my shoulder, are you?”

“Oh, I’m not angel.” Belle said with a chuckle.

“But you are. That is, you have been. What I mean is …”

The room seemed to dim around Belle. It was not in a gloomy way. No, it felt warm. She felt close, as though she could feel Rumpelstiltskin standing beside her, just beyond her reach. “What do you look like?” she asked suddenly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean … it doesn’t matter to me really. But I just wonder-”

“I doubt I look anything like you imagine. Being The Dark One doesn’t make for a pretty picture. I’m all scales and … I’m very ugly Belle. You would be horrified if you saw.”

“I doubt that. And I only wondered because … I was just thinking what it would be like to look into your eyes.” A melody started to play. It was something old and familiar, though Belle couldn’t quite place it. “Are you as far away as your voice, or are you standing here with me, in this very room?”

“I am here, Belle.”

“Then dance with me.”

“I-”

“There’s music. I hear it. I think maybe I willed it to come. I can pretend that I can see you. Tell me where to stand.”

“We’d look very silly, dancing with air.”

“Who’s going to see? Dance with me Rumple.”

He was quite, and she thought she would need to convince him more, but then he said, “There’s a spinning wheel. Do you see it?”

A spotlight fell on the wheel.

“Yes.” Belle said breathlessly, nodding her head.

“I’m just behind it.”

The spotlight moved.

Belle got into position.

“I give a bow.”

Belle giggled, “Then I will curtsy in turn.” She said.

“Take my hand. It’s just by the needlepoint. Be careful not to prick yourself.” Belle smiled, putting her hand where he indicated, “Stand up straight now.”

“I am.” Belle said, just as the spotlight disappeared. What was left was pure darkness. Belle saw nothing. But she felt a hand grasp hers, and she gasped, “Rumpelstiltskin?”

“I’m here, Belle.”

“I’m … I’m reaching out my other hand for-” and she felt his shoulder under her fingers, “You are real, aren’t you?”

“You aren’t afraid.”

“Darkness is nothing to be scared of when you … when you have someone you trust to lead you. I would trust you with my life.”

And then they were gliding across the floor. It was almost funny. Belle had longed for so long to see as much of the world as she could. Now she couldn’t see a thing, but she had never felt so … what was this feeling? It was warmth in the pit of her stomach. It was a quickness in her breath. It was being unsure if her feet were still on the ground or if she was floating in the strong arms that held her close, arms she never wanted to let her go.

And then the music stopped and the room was once more bright.

 

Aria longed for a book to read. She was curled up on the couch. Jack would not give her the bed, and sharing it with him was not an option. In any case, it wasn’t something either of them wanted.

Funny how they could agree on some things after all.

It was hard to find a position that didn’t hurt. Her body ached so, and she just wished …

She wished she were still at Granny’s in Henry’s room, listening to him read to her. Fairytales. It was so silly. Was that really the book she had been so desperate to find the other day? And yet … still, after everything she knew the world to be, after everything she had told Emma at the hospital, she wanted the comfort that the book provided. She wanted to read about heroes who were brave like she wasn’t, and happy endings like she would never have. If only she lived in another world …

But that would do nothing. In another world, she would still be the cowardly girl she had always been, to frightened to change her life, to weak and helpless. Sometimes, she liked to pretend that there was someone there, someone who could coax her into fighting. Some hero in a book who would be the strength she needed, the light she could follow. But she was all alone.

The phone startled her. She rushed to answer, “Hello?”

“Mrs. Scathe.” The Mayor’s voice cooed.

“Madam Mayor? To what to do I owe-?”

“Oh, none of this Madam Mayor stuff. Why, we’re practically family. How are you dear? I heard what happened.”

“Oh I’m … I’m fine, thank you.”

“No need to put on a brave face. You must feel dreadful.”

“I … I should probably get my husband. He’ll want to talk to you.”

“All right. But if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, just give me a ring.”

Aria opened the door to their bedroom, though she really thought of it as his. It wasn’t a safe place for her, and after all, she hadn’t slept there in ages.

“The Mayor-?”

Before she could finish, he was up and he had grabbed the phone from her, “Madam Mayor. How kind of you to call.”

She wanted to hit him, to choke him. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. She wasn’t strong enough. She wasn’t brave enough. She was just a girl. So she shut the door as she left them to their conversation, and she headed back to the couch. There would be no stories tonight, just the sounds of a cruel husband with an unfaithful heart.

 

“What’s going on?” Ava asked, rubbing her eyes.

David looked up and smiled at his daughter. Her brother wasn’t far behind, coming down the stairs.

“Sorry. Did I wake you?”

Nicholas nodded, “We’re supposed to be asleep.”

“I know. But I couldn’t sleep, and I thought I’d whip up something special for tomorrow.”

“Mother’s apple pie?” Ava asked, looking at the baking ingredients spread out on the counter.

“Unfortunately, your father is not the baker your mother is. I could never do that recipe justice. But I picked up a box of cake mix, and it looks pretty simple.” He smiled, adding, “It’s chocolate.”

“Mother doesn’t like us to eat sweets.” Ava said.

“Yes. But, for tonight, you’re father says it’s all right. You can even help if you like, as long as you steer clear of the dangerous parts.”

“Does mother know? Is she okay with this?” Nicholas asked.

“I’ll surprise her in the morning. Come on, guys. You can even like the spoons if you like.” The children still looked unsure. “Guys, come on, it’s just this once. I’m sure you’re mother will love to wake up to a nice slice of chocolate cake prepared by her three favorite people.”

Nicholas and Ava nodded at each other, “Of course we’ll help you father.” Ava said, smiling, “But we won’t have any tonight. If mother allows it in the morning we will.”

“I prefer vegetables anyway.” Nicholas added, and Ava nodded in agreement.

David laughed as the three family members set to work on the cake. He loved his children dearly, but sometimes they seemed … strange.

 

“Mom?” Emma looked up, when had Henry returned. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since Neal left. It felt like centuries. “Mom, why are you crying?”

Emma swiped at her face, “I wasn’t. I … allergies.” Henry gave her a doubtful look. “Henry, you’re the kid, and I’m the parent, so you don’t get to know everything, okay?” She winced, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to … it’s just been a long day.”

“Because of Aria?”

“Among other things.”

“You can help her mom. I know you can.” Henry came over and gave her a hug. “I believe in you.”

“Thanks kid.”

 

“Do you think perhaps it’s time to return to the hotel?” Rumpelstiltskin asked. He found Neal leaning against fence on one of Storybrooke’s streets.

“Where’s Henry?”

“Comforting your wife, I imagine, after the harsh words you two no doubt exchanged.”

Neal shook his head, “I … I know it wasn’t fair. I know I need to apologize, so you don’t have to tell me-”

“Good. Because you’ve always been a good husband-”

Neal snorted, “I’ve lied to her.” Neal said, beginning to pace, “Where I come from, who I am,” he gestured to himself, “Who you are … I was a fool to think I could get away with that. And now she has this destiny, and I …”

“I should think it would make things easier. She’s from our world.”

“That doesn’t mean she’ll accept it; she still grew up here. It just means we get drawn back in. You get drawn back in. and when she breaks this curse, what happens? Do we go back? Do you go back?”

“Do I become what I was again? I don’t know, son. I wish I had the answers. But, truthfully, this is as much a surprise to me as it is to you. If we’d known about Emma, well, we might not have taken her in. still, I don’t regret that decision, and I don’t think you really do either. She’s family, as is Henry.”

Neal nodded, “Let’s go back. Figure this out.”

“Bae, I didn’t think there was a way for me to not be what I was, without losing my life, or losing you, but you found a way. Whatever happens, we’ll find a way.”

“Thank you Papa.”

 

For the first time, Belle had not been asleep when it happened. She had been reading, but it was a rather interesting book, and she wasn’t dozing in the slightest. But then she … felt something. She heard it, but not with her ears. It was like a sound, but it called out to her heart. And she knew that he needed her. She closed her eyes.

“I can’t …” It was distant, a whimper, so afraid, so …

“Rumple?”

“He’s falling through a portal to … to god knows where. And I can’t go Belle. I can’t, I … what will become of me?”

“Be strong. You can be strong. You’re son believes in you. I believe in you.”

“I’m afraid.”

“I’ll be with you. Always. I won’t leave you Rumple. Forever, remember? Forever, wherever you go. You will carry my strength. Take it now. Take it and jump into the unknown. Jump for your son, and you will land safely.”

Belle jerked awake then. Her mother was staring at her.

“Belle? What-?”

“I’m fine mother, I … it was just a dream.”

But something felt … broken, somehow. Something had changed. Belle would see to him. She would check in with Rumpelstiltskin soon and …

But some part of her knew that this was the end. She would never see him again.

 

“Hey kid.” Neal said, “You mind if I talk to your mother alone for a bit?”

Henry shook his head, “I guess I’ll turn in. it’s been a long day. But a good one. Things are gonna get better mom, I promise.”

Emma smiled, hugging her son one last time before he went off to bed.

“Emma-”

“I can’t right now Neal. Look, I know I screwed up, but I didn’t deserve that. So … I’m sorry, but I need to just … I’m not ready to talk to you right now. Why don’t you … bunk with your dad tonight? We’ll talk in the morning, okay?”

Neal nodded, “Whatever you need.” Neal turned to go, “I love you, Em.”

“Me too.” Emma said, nodding. Then she headed off to bed alone, trying, for the second time that day, not to cry.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Upon a hill by the sea, two boys battled their hardest battle yet. What else could it be? Every battle was always harder than the last. And in the moment when the sword sticks in you, well, no battle before matters.

"Can I play?" A young girl asked, running up to them. She was wearing a simple pink dress that made it hard for her to run. Her hair, black like her mothers, was a mess. It was always a mess, though less so since she cut it. Nobody had been thrilled with that, her cutting her hair so short, but once it was done, they could hardly undo it, now could they?

"Girls don't get to play." One of the boys said, "Go inside and help mama with dinner."

"That's not-"

"Alice!" Her mother called from behind her, "Come inside. You're ruining your dress."

"But-"

"Listen to your mother lass." A man, also with dark hair, said as he strode up the hill. Both boys ran up to him, tackling him.

"Papa." They squealed.

"It's almost as though they missed you." His wife said fondly.

The man laughed, hugging the ruffians known as his children, "Mercy, mercy. Let me up, and I'll give you presents from the crew."

"Was it nice seeing them? How is everybody?" His wife asked.

"They're all fairing well. They miss their Captain, but, they understand. A man needs to be with his family."

"Tell us a story, Papa! Tell us of when you were a fierce pirate!"

"You don't want presents then?"

"Papa, they wouldn't let me-"

"Presents! Presents!" The boys shouted, drowning out Alice's complaint. She huffed, running off.

She headed towards the trees, climbing up one as high as she could, until she could see their cottage on the hill.

After what seemed no time at all, she heard her Papa calling her down. She jumped, and he ran to catch her. "Bloody hell, lass. You'll give your Papa a heart attack with daring tricks like that."

"I could have landed on my feet. I've done it before."

"Well you won't again. It's not safe-"

"Suppose it was Liam, or Asher? Would you let them climb? Of course you would. You let them run around and do whatever they want, while I have to be careful and wear dresses. I bet you brought me back another doll."

"As a matter of fact, I didn't." He said, taking out a bottle, "Alice, you are my light, and it's my dearest wish to protect you. But you have your mother's spirit, and it's not lost on me that someday, I won't be able to keep you safely tucked away here. So, should you ever need me, you need simply to say my name into this bottle, and I'll know. I'll come find you, wherever you are. I'll save you."

"And if I should want to save myself?"

"There's no shame in asking for help when you need it."

"Would you? Would the fierce pirate Captain Killian Jones whine into a bottle like some little girl for help, or would he fight his way out of whatever scrape he was in?"

"Alice-"

"You treat me different for being a girl, and I don't like it. I want to learn to swordfight and go on adventures!" She stomped her foot for emphasis, and her Papa chuckled, making her growl.

"Well, how's this for an adventure? The lads thought it might be fun for you lot to see my old stomping grounds. Up for a sail on The Jolly Roger?"

Alice's face broke into a smile. "Truly. You won't make me stay back?"

"If you promise to be careful and follow my instructions to the letter. The sea can be quite dangerous, and if we ever lost you …"

"I promise."

"All right then. Go change out of that muddy rag, have your mother find you something seaworthy. We sail at dawn."


Jamie stared up at the old sign that she's seen a million times. Jones' Garage, it read. Looking at it brought so many memories to mind, sitting with her father, passing him tools, having him explain to her the difference between each one.

"The Lady Jones." A familiar voice said.

Jamie smiled, "I'm no lady, sir." She said, trying to sound stern, but when she turned to him, she let him take her in a hug. Mr. Donald had been her father's right hand man. He was in her family's employ for as long as she could remember. He was family, really. "It's good to see you Don."

"And you Jones. It's been a long time."

"You know, it has. I can't for the life of me figure out why it's taken so long to visit." It was the strangest feeling, like she'd been dreaming for so long, and had only just woken up. What a silly thought. "Tell me, how's life been treating you?"

"Oh, you know. Business is good, so I'm good." He said, picking up a wrench and fiddling with on engine.

"There's more to life than business, Don."

"True, but not to mine. Frankly, this garage is all I have."

"Well, we'll just have to fix that then. Find some poor girl for you, you can settle down, start a family-"

"I had a family, your family." He said sadly, "No, this is it for me."

"And if I said the same, would you let me get away with it?"

He shook his head, smiling, "The last Jones standing? No, not a chance."

The were silent for a moment and Don tinkered, "Can I ask you something? It's … it's about my mum."

"Of course."

"I just … I guess I just wondered … how she and dad met? I never heard the story."

"Oh, I don't know about all that. They were already married when I met 'em."

"And he never told you?"

"I never asked. It never seemed relevant." He put down his wrench, "Is everything okay?"

Jamie thought of the family that she seemed to barely remember, and she thought of Neal. Neal, who seemed to think he was her brother. This strange man who was following her, and who she should be afraid of, but wasn't. "No, I'm fine."


"I already asked her about taking a blood test-"

"I don't think that's wise. People in power, they always know what goes on. If there were concrete proof, and word got out to the wrong people that we were … where we were from, it could be quite dangerous."

"Well, it's too late. We went to the hospital, and we should have the results today." Rumple said nothing, but the look he shot his son was shocked and dismayed, "I need to know."

"I hardly think you need a test to confirm what you know in your gut, especially considering what Henry told us."

"Well, then how will she know? She can't just take my word-"

"And it's best she doesn't. For her sake and yours. We've stumbled upon a war between royals, and our beginnings are both humble and dangerous. It's best to lie low now until we know-"

"That sounds quite calculating. Am I talking to my father right now? Or is some other voice chiming in?"

"Bae-"

"What are you two fighting about?" Both men turned to see Henry at the door.

"Henry? Lad? How long have you been-?"

"Somewhere around a war between royals." His grandfather nodded, "I get it if you guys are scared. This whole fairytales being real thing is way freaky, and there is a curse to break and all. But I'm not worried."

"You're not?" His father asked.

"Hero's always win in these stories, so if they're real, that means that's real too. And I believe in mom. I believe in us."

His grandfather smile, and his father, well, it was almost like a smile, but more like a wince.

"Where is your mother?" He asked in a tone Henry didn't quite recognize.

"She went to get breakfast, said I should wake you guys."

"Does she, uh, want all of us to join her?"

Henry shrugged, "But I want to hurry before they run out of all the good pastries. I'm super-hungry. Breaking curses is hard work." And with that, the boy took off.


Emma was scanning the breakfast options when someone plopped down beside her.

"You should try the Belgian Waffles. They're out of this world." An accented voice said. She turned to see a man in scruff sitting there.

"And you should try not sitting down next to strangers while they're trying to decide on breakfast."

"Strangers? Now, that's hurtful." Emma just stared at him, "We met yesterday. At the doctor's office."

"Sheriff. Right."

He held up a hand, "Graham."

"Like the crackers?"

He laughed, a deep, throaty laugh, "If you like."

"Okay. So, Sherriff Graham, wanna tell me why you're sitting next to me, or was it just to push the waffles?"

"I actually wanted to talk to you about the case. Aria."

Emma sat up straighter, "Oh."

"You probably don't think much of me as law enforcement for not thinking to question you in the office, but you have to understand, we don't usually have things like this happen here."

"Or you do, and this is just the first time someone noticed."

"And that someone would be you, I suppose?"

"Never underestimate an outsiders perspective."

Graham nodded. He was quiet a moment, "How did you come to be in that office with Aria? I hardly think you could be there as a friend, considering you haven't even been in town for a week."

"I was the one who found her … like that. Convinced her to go see a doctor."

"Found her … where exactly?"

"Outside Granny's. Behind the back of the Inn. I saw her through my window."

"Is that where the attack happened? Outside Granny's."

"I didn't see."

"So you stumbled on her afterwards? Didn't see anyone?"

"She was alone, far as I saw."

Graham paused, "You said you convinced her to see a doctor." Emma nodded, "And why would she need convincing."

"She was scared."

"Why?"

"Are you really asking that?"

"I just feel like there's something you're not saying here."

"Well unless you have something more concrete than a feeling-"

"You don't trust feelings in your work, Emma? Never go with your gut, hound after something because you know you can't put it down?"

"You're awfully presumptuous, you know that?"

"What I know is that nothing like this has ever happened in this town. Your family rolls in; suddenly we have a man going around attacking women. Some might say that's a coincidence. I don't believe in coincidences. Some might say you were at fault. I don't believe that either, because my gut tells me that you were there to help yesterday. My gut tells me that you're a good person. So maybe you want to trust my gut right now, because believe it or not, I am on your side, and Aria's. I only want what's best for this town."

"And I'll cooperate. I'll come down to the station and make a statement. In the meantime, though, I'd like to enjoy my breakfast, if you don't mind."

Graham nodded, drumming his fingers on the table before getting up, "Okay. We'll set that up then."

"And for the record, I want to help Aria too."


"Those are mine!" Liam said, stamping his foot. He had caught Alice playing around with his sword, in his clothes! She had found a spare he had packed down in the Captain's quarters, and put then on, before practicing her lunges and feints. Regardless of what was said of girls, she would be a proper swordsman yet.

"I can't fight like a proper pirate in a skirt." She said, not even pretending to be sorry.

"You're not supposed to be fighting at all. I'll tell Papa-"

The shipped lurched. And again. "We should head back up, see what's going on."

The two children rushed out of the Captain's quarters and ran up to the deck. Once they got there, they discovered a storm was whacking the ship about.

"Papa!" Alice cried.

Killian turned at the sound of Alice's voice, trying to keep his wet hair from obscuring his vision. "Get back down there!" He called over the howling wind.

"But I want to help!"

"You promised to mind me!"

"Papa, I -"

Another jolt.

Water was crashing against the side of the ship, jerking Alice off her feet. She looked up at her father, trying to hear him over the storm. He was coming towards her, but something knocked into him, and then she couldn't see him anymore. She felt water start to seep through her borrowed clothes and pool around her feet. The ship shifted again, and she slammed against the side, skittering to the edge. She tried to hold on to something, but the side of the ship was wet and slippery, and her fingers were burning from the effort.

Something swept up under her, and she felt like she was flying, truly flying. Flying would be an amazing adventure, but it shouldn't be like this, tumbling backwards with no control. Her eyes stung, and she tasted salt and wet and cold. She tried to scream, but she couldn't. She tried to propel herself upward. She knew how to swim, and she knew that she couldn't panic. She couldn't wave her arms about like a madwoman, because she would only drown faster. Because that was what was happening, wasn't it? She was drowning? She was sinking, unable to catch her breath as her lungs filled up with water. She needed to think of something. She needed to find a way to stay afloat. She needed to find a way back to The Jolly Roger, and to Papa. But she couldn't see, and the water was so heavy. She needed to think, but her mind was foggy, and she couldn't breathe.

Where was her Papa? Why couldn't she see him? Was that him calling to her? Was that his arms folding around her? No, no those arms did not belong to her Papa. Those arms were trying to pull her farther down under the storm. She couldn't let them! She had to fight. Papa would fight.

Alice thrashed and thrashed. The storm could rage, but so could she. She was the storm, wasn't she? No, no storm or stranger would drown her. She was Alice freaking Jones! She was a pirate in the making! Her father was the scourge of the seven seas! No storm could best her. She just needed to get her head above water, to breathe again. Then she could find cover until the storm passed. She could find her Papa, and Mama, and her brothers.

Again, someone grabbed at her, and she struggled and kicked, but her energy was dwindling. She was being pulled, and she couldn't stop it. She was being pulled … up? Was she being pulled up? She was being pulled towards the light. Was it the sun, was she being rescued? Or was it the other light she was being pulled towards? Was this the end of Alice Jones?

The light got brighter and brighter, and then there was darkness.

And then there was noise.

"- got this far ashore? It's not so easy for must."

"Lad must've been desperate."

"As would I be, did you see that storm?"

She felt pressure on her chest, and she wanted to swat at whoever was putting it there, but her arms were sluggish and barely responded. And then she found she was coughing so violently that it forced her to sit up. Her whole body ached from the motion, and her head worst of all, but as she coughed up water she couldn't help but come to the conclusion that she was well and truly alive. She felt like laughing and crying all at once, but instead she just coughed up water, her throat feeling remarkable dry and sore considering how much of the ocean was passing through it.

"Easy lad," a voice said, a hand pressing gently on her back.

She turned and saw a group of boys not much older than her staring at her curiously.

"Where … what …?" Not the best first impression, but Alice did not know what else to ask.

"You're safe from the storm. You've come ashore unharmed." Said the boy whose hand was still on her back. "I found you struggling in the water. You put up quite a fight actually."

"I thought you were trying to drown me." She said, slowly processing what he'd said.

He laughed. His laugh was rich and bright, with the hint of something she couldn't quite identify. "If I wanted you to drown, well then I would have just left you to the storm. That would have gotten the job down well enough."

"And the others?"

There was a pause, "I didn't see anyone else. I'm sorry."

Alice shivered and convulsed, throwing up whatever was left in her, "So I'm alone then?"

"Fret not, lad. You've stumbled upon a band of boys who will gladly be your family."

Lad? But then she remembered what she was wearing and her new haircut.

"And who are you lads, then? Where am I?"

"You don't know? You're in the place where dreams are born, and time is never planned. You've found your way to Neverland, and my lost boys and I will take proper care of you."

Neverland. Papa spoke of the place to her once before. He said it was a dangerous place, with tricks around every corner. Well, Papa always made things sound more dangerous than they were, scared for his precious, defenseless daughter. But Alice was wanting an adventure, and it seems she was in the right place for one.

Was Papa alive? Had her family survived? Alice didn't know. But she may never know. And Papa knew the sea and storms. Surely they had made it. Getting back to them though, that would be difficult. And did she really want to go back to a family that coddled her and never let her be what she wanted so badly to be? Perhaps it was best if Alice Jones was lost to the world for now.

"Well, you know who we are. Care to tell us who you are?"

"Me? I'm a pirate."

The boy laughed, "Well we've certainly never had any pirates in Neverland. Aren't you a bit young to be a pirate?"

"Pirate in training." Alice corrected.

"Well, you're a lost boy now. One of us." He gave Alice his hand and helped her up, sending a shiver up her arm, "So, dread pirate, what do we call you?"

Alice smiled, "James. My name is James."


She didn't want the town seeing how weak she was. She wanted to stay in bed for the rest of her life. She wanted to drift off to sleep, and maybe, if she were lucky, just stay asleep forever. She could be like sleeping beauty. Sleeping beauty was probably in Henry's fairytale book, right. She could ask him later if she was able to see him again. She certainly hoped she was. She would see lots of people, many of whom she did not want to see at all. But she needed to. She needed to go out and be with people because public places were safe. Jack hadn't done anything in public before, always careful of his reputation, and now more than ever, people would check on how she was doing. If she stayed in public places, he wouldn't dare touch her.

She was pushing her shopping cart down the aisle of Storybrooke's only grocery store when she felt someone behind her. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she flinched, jumping back.

"I … sorry." The man said. It wasn't Jack. She exhaled, trying to smile as she turned to face him.

"That's fine. I'm just a bit jumpy I suppose."

"That's completely understandable." The man said, pity in his eyes. They were kind eyes, though she couldn't quite remember them. She took him in again, and it clicked. David Mills. This was the Mayor's husband. They'd met at events, parties and things. He was always off to the side, doting on his wife, but staying out of the way.

"Did you want something, Mr. Mills?"

He put a hand up, "David, please. And I just wanted to … I guess see how, that is … I saw you, and I just thought I should offer my apologies for what happened to you."

"Why should you apologize?"

"I just feel horrible that something like this happened to you. Our families have always been close; we're practically related, and I wanted you to know that The Mayor and I support you. We're here if you need anything."

Aria nodded. Related indeed. My husband wants to shag your wife. Quite the incestuous family, I suppose. "I appreciate that."

"I want you to know I intend to put pressure on the sheriffs department. We'll catch this guy."

He seemed so adamant, but Aria felt cold, "That's not necessary. Graham is very capable."

"If he were, then this wouldn't have happened. In this town of all places."

"Well, it's your wife's town. Maybe she's the one who should be -" Aria stopped. What had gotten into her? She was taking far too many risks lately. Ever since she gave that book to Henry.

"-imply my wife had anything to do with-"

"Of course not. I'm sorry David. I'm just upset. You're wife is, of course, blameless in all things." She tried to keep the sarcasm from her voice, and David seemed placated.

"I understand. Did Jack tell you that we wanted to have you two for dinner?"

Aria nodded, "I'm looking forward to it. Should I bring anything?" Like a mallet?

"Nothing but your appetites. Selena is a great cook."

Aria nodded, "She is quite skilled in all things."

"That she is."

"Well, I promise that I'll be practically starving, and my husband will certainly be hungry." Of course I'm always practically starving, scavenging through Granny's trash and Jack's hunger won't have a thing to do with food.

"Excellent. Well, I have to get going, but I'll see you soon." Aria nodded. Then, he gave her a look so genuine it made Aria blink. "Take care." He said.

She nodded, feeling guilty for her harsh thoughts. It was hardly his fault how Jack felt about Selena, or what Jack did to her. Truthfully, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He was the sort who would never beat his wife, and Selena was the sort who would never put up with it if he did. Some people had it so easy, and some people just kept getting pushed back down, lost and alone, wishing for a prince charming to ride in on a horse and save them.

She thought this as she watched David walk away, and, for a minute, she thought of Henry's book, the story of James, Snow White, and David, her "Prince Charming." It was the most bizarre thought but the picture of the shepherd flashed through her mind, and for a moment, it was him walking away from her. She wanted to call out to him and tell him that everything was wrong, that she needed him to save her, that he was a hero, wasn't he. But then the moment was gone, and Aria went back to her grocery cart.


There should be pictures. Jamie knew that. She had never thought to look for them before but …

Sometimes she wondered why she had always stayed in Storybrooke, living in the same house she grew up in. It wasn't that she didn't have other ambitions but she just never felt strongly compelled to leave. Why go out seeking adventure when home was so … safe? The Mayor certainly kept things safe, though she had heard rumblings lately that things weren't so safe as she had once thought. In any case, right now, she was grateful to be in the same house. She was able to go up to the attic and look around this way. She was able to try to find photo albums and family heirlooms. So far, she hadn't had much luck. However, Jamie was not one to give up easily.

It took a lot, but she finally found something. It was a picture of her with her father. They were at the shop, standing in front of one of his beloved classic cars. She tried to remember what they had been talking about when the picture was taken, but her recollection was fuzzy. Probably something about the make of the car. After all this time, she knew the model on sight. All that car trivia came second nature. It was the conversations with her father that seemed farther away.


"What can I get you?" The waitress at Granny's asked.

Neal was hardly listening. He was looking around for his wife, "Was Emma here earlier?" He asked.

"I'm sorry?"

"Emma, my wife. Look, we're new in town -"

"Oh, I know. It was all anybody was talking about for a while. But then that thing happened to Aria and well, I guess you guys became old news." She said shrugging.

"Right, um, so did you see her here earlier?"

"She was here. Had a tense conversation with Graham, ate her waffles, and took off."

"Graham?"

"The Sheriff. Roguishly charming with scruff and an adorable accent. They looked cute together," Neal just looked at her, his eyes slightly wide, his mouth slightly open. She cleared her throat, "But, I mean, he's decent, not the sort to go after a married woman. He was probably just playing welcoming committee or something like that."

"Right. So, you don't know where she went, miss-?"

"Ruby. And nope." She popped her gum. "So, you gonna order, or are we gonna gossip all day?"

Neal didn't say anything. His father, who had been watching the exchange cleared his throat and started to list off what they wanted, emphasizing coffee for his son. Ruby nodded and headed off.

"Is everything okay?" Henry asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you and mom. Are you guys fighting?" Henry was the most mature ten-year-old Neal had ever known, but looking at his son's wide-eyed expression, he was reminded just how young he really was.

"Henry, no," he said, putting his hand on his son's shoulder, "We're just … having a thing."

Henry shrugged his father's hand off, "I'm not stupid, you know. I mean, this whole trip started because you guys had that fight about my project, and now you're acting weird and - "

"Henry, listen to me. Marriages … marriages aren't always perfect. Married people fight sometimes. They have things. But if they love each other, which your mom and I do, and their willing to put in the work, which your mom and I are, then they make it through. You're mom and I … we're going to be fine."

He needed Henry to believe that. He needed to believe it. They were going to be fine.


"You're here again?"

Emma smiled, holding out the to-go bag and hot chocolate to Mary Margaret, "Disappointed?"

"I … I'm just surprised. I didn't think … that smells really good."

Emma smiled, "Waffles with a butter and syrup packets, and a side of sausage links."

Mary Margaret smiled, smelling the food, "That doesn't smell like coffee."

"No. Sorry, force of habit. I have this thing about hot chocolate, but if you want, I can go back and -"

"No that's fine. I love hot chocolate, especially with cinnamon."

Emma smiled, "Me too."

They sat in silence for a minute, "So, I heard you were quite the hero earlier, finding Aria."

"God, I hate small towns." Emma said, but there was a smile in her voice, "I just gave her a ride mostly, not that the sheriff believes that."

"Graham? He's a sweetheart. As honest as they come."

"I don't know that he trusts me much."

"Should he?" Emma didn't say anything, "Should I trust you? I'm sorry, I don't know why I asked. It's just -"

"We're staying," Emma said, cutting her off.

"What?"

"The other day, you said I couldn't offer to help because we were just passing through. But now we're staying. Indefinitely. So if you need anything."

There was something in the back of Mary Margaret's brain saying she should say her sister made sure she had everything she needed. And yet … "Why? I mean, why are you staying?"

"For Aria. And you."

"You hardly know us."

"I know, but I feel like … like I need to. For anyone here who might need a friend."

My sister is my friend. She almost said it, almost, but something about the look in Emma's eyes stopped her. So she smiled and raised her hot chocolate, toasting Emma, "Well, to new friend's then."


Alice followed the sound of tears. She had heard them before. Not all lost boys wanted to be lost. Some of them were just scared, and alone, and they didn't see what Peter was offering them. She could talk them down, sometimes.

"You have a gentle touch James, say the things the rest of us don't think of."

She would smile at the secret she'd been keeping for what felt like forever now. She had been in Neverland a good long while now, and she knew that place. And Peter trusted her. What more could you want?

"A little homesick, are we?" She asked as she came upon the new recruit. What she saw shocked her. A nightgown and long blonde curly hair, "You're a girl?"

"I want to go home." The girl cried.

Alice nodded, "It … it feels like that at first. But after a while … Peter and the others can be your family."

"I have a family. Michael and John, mother and father, nana …"

Alice smiles, "I had a family too. Liam and Asher, Mama and Papa, but they're far from me now. The lost boys take care of their own."

"Well I'm not a boy, and I don't want to be lost. I want to take my brothers and go home."

"It's not so bad as all that. I promise." She put a hand of comfort on the girl's shoulder, "Hey, what's you're name?"

"Wendy," the girl said, "Wendy Moira Angela Darling."

"That's rather long. How do they fit it on your letters?"

"Only mother gets letters."

"Well, now you and I have something in common. We have mothers, somewhere out there. None of these boys ever had one. They barely know what a girl is."

"But they know you."

Alice started, "I … my name is James." Wendy just looked at her, "You can't tell. They'll toss me out. They don't want girls."

Wendy gave a small smile, "I won't tell."

"Actually, if you want to go that badly, Peter might let you. The shadow could take you back. Since you're a girl -"

"My brothers … I can't leave them."

"We'll take good care of them. This island is a big playground and -"

"I don't care. I thought it sounded fun, but now we're not allowed to leave. What would I tell mother? This will break her heart. And father … they need us. They love us. And we love them. No, it's all of us or none of us. I can't leave them behind. They need me. Boys need girls to look after them. Michael gets scared at night, and I sing to him, and John can get stupid and full of himself, and I have to remind him he's not so clever as all that."

"Well, Peter won't let them go back. That's not how he works. But -"

"What are you doing?" Peter called, walking over to them purposefully.

"Just telling Wendy that this place isn't as bad as all that," Alice said.

"Don't bother with her. She's a girl. She's welcome to go home whenever she likes. And by welcome, and mean encouraged." He gave a feral smile.

"Not without my brothers," Wendy said.

"Sorry Wendy, but you're brothers are lost boys now. They're better off without the likes of you."

"Peter, can't she stay?" Alice heard herself asking.

"Watch yourself, James." He cautioned.

"It's just … it gets lonely here, and sometimes … sometimes I think about girls, and how it would be nice to have one around."

"Those are dangerous thoughts for a lost boy. Think too much that you need a woman and you'll soon find yourself a man, your balls tied to a lass who'll use you and leave you behind the first chance she gets. Girls are not good for much James, and what their good for has consequences. They leave squealing little things in your lap, expecting you to play nursemaid the rest of your life. You'll never have another game in your life"

"But some of the younger ones could use a nursemaid, and you don't want that role. Let her play their mother; let her ease their cries when you don't want to. Let her tell them stories of your bravery while you lead the older ones on adventures. Women are useful Peter, if you know how to use them."

"And why does it matter so much to you?"

"I … I want her to stay."

Peter took a moment, then nodded, "She's your responsibility, and if she gets to be a bother, on your head be it." And then he was off.

"Thank you. Thank you for not letting him separate us. You're quite clever yourself, aren't you?"

"All girls are clever. That's why boys hate us so much." She said, even as she wondered why Peter hated girls so much. What had happened to him? Who had hurt him so?

Wendy sniffled a bit, "I'm sorry. I should be grateful, and I am. It's just … "

"It's just you want to go home." Wendy nodded, "Why not give Neverland a chance, just for a bit? You might grow to like it here."

"What if I don't?"

"If you don't then … then I'll help you. I'll help you find a way home."

Wendy looked up at her, startled, "You … you promise?"

"Yeah. I promise."


"Hey, it's Jamie, right?"

Jamie turned to see Neal's wife, "Yes. And it's Emma, correct?"

Emma nodded, "I'm glad I ran into you. I was going to call on Monday, but, no time like the present." Jamie waited for Emma to go on, "Well, my family and I, we've decided to stick around, for a bit. And my son, he's ten, so he's going to be transferring, and a little birdie told me you are the principal of the local school."

"That I am."

"Yeah, so, Henry was in year-round school up until now, but he gets good grades, and he's very bright. I can have his stuff sent over to you Monday."

Jamie nodded, "Brilliant. Listen, I'm sort of in a rush so, if there wasn't anything else -"

"Right sorry." Emma said, "No, there wasn't anything else. I mean, what else … um, I'll see you around."

Jamie nodded, heading on her way. She had a feeling Emma wanted to say more. Given that they might be sisters-in-law, it made sense. Jamie never had a sister. She'd never been so close to other girls. Oh, her and the teachers were pleasant to each other, but she was their boss. She was on good terms with everyone at school, right down to May, but that wasn't the same. If Neal was right, she would have a sister, and a brother, and a nephew. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.


"Sheriff, a word?"

Graham turned, seeing The Mayor's husband head his way. Because that's who he was; he was not David, he was The Mayor's husband. David seemed the decent sort, and Graham hardly begrudged a man for doting on his wife. And the Mayor was quite a woman. Graham respected her greatly. Still, it never seemed like David had a personality or a life of his own. He was always respectful and obedient. All the Millses were prim and proper. It should be that they were friends, running the town, wanting the best for Storybrooke. They worked on behalf of The Mayor. Still, something about David just bugged Graham. Maybe it was the feeling that David could be so much more, if he were challenged … if he tried. "How's greetings? Salutations? Hello? All good words, I think." He said, slowing his gate for David to catch up as he took a sip from his to-go coffee cup.

David gave a forced smile, "Cute. Look, I wanted to talk about the attack. I might have -"

Graham put his hand on David's arm, stopping him, "David, we're in the middle of main street. Perhaps best to wait to discuss Sheriff business until we reach the privacy of the station, yeah?"

The two men walked side-by-side in silence for a bit, "So, how goes your morning?" Graham inquired, smiling into his cup.

"Fine. I dropped the kids at a friends house for a few hours so I could run some errands."

Graham nodded, "Sweet kids. Well behaved."

David squinted in thought for a minute, "Uh, yeah," he said with a distracted sort of tone. Then he shook his head, seeming to come out of it. "Yeah. So, it looks like we're here."

Graham stepped up and unlocked the door, "After you." He said, motioning theatrically.

"Thanks." David said, closing the door behind him, "So, like I was saying. The attack. I don't want to accuse anybody, but the timing seems a little suspect. With, you know, the newcomers."

"The thought had occurred to me," Graham said, trying not to give much away.

"Right. Good. Because, I mean, we had them over for a meal, right before this all happened actually, and they seemed like good people. But, it's just, nothing like this has ever happened here, and now …"

"I see what you're getting at David, and I'm not so green as a sheriff that I'm not already pursuing this. I'll admit that this case caught me by surprise, but I have every intention of finding the culprit and putting a stop to it. I'll explore all avenues."

David nodded, "Good."

"Good. Now, why don't you put it from your mind and relax for a minute? It's the weekend."

"I'll relax when this guy is behind bars," David said, heading off.

Graham shook his head, "I doubt that." What was it with David? Why did it bug him so much seeing the man so … well, this case had gotten under his bonnet, and maybe that was a good thing. After all, as casual as Graham tried to play it, the whole thing got under his bonnet too. And he was pursuing it. He was just a wee bit scared of what he might find.


"Why are we doing this?" Henry asked as he followed his grandfather to the hospital.

As soon as Neal left, Rumple had known what he needed to do. He hated involving Henry, but adorable ten-year-olds were a useful distraction, and he needed all the help he could get. This would not be easy to pull off, especially with his limp. He had to try though.

"This is about protecting your father, Henry. Protecting all of us, really. You'll just have to trust me."

"Of course I trust you, Grandpa." Henry said, "But I still don't understand - "

"Henry, please. I promise, one day, I will explain everything, but right now, I need your help. You remember what I told you to do, right?"

Henry nodded, going up to the desk, "Excuse me?"

"Well, hello young man. And who might you be?"

"I'm Henry."

"What can I do for you, Henry?"

"I'm supposed to go in for a shot, but I'm scared. Doctors are super scary."

"Doctor's are not so scary, I promise. I work with them every day."

"Well, I'm scared, so I ran off."

"Henry, you can't run off when you need a shot. Shots are important. Don't you want to be healthy?"

Henry nodded, "But I don't want to have to get a shot. Adults don't need shots to be healthy."

"Adults get shots too."

"You're just saying that."

"Why don't I walk you back, hm, Henry?" Henry nodded, "Let's just check what room you were in -"

"I remember." Henry said quickly, "It was 403."

The woman nodded, "Okay. Let's go."

"Wait. Can I have a hug first?"

The woman smiled, "Why certainly." She got down on Henry's level and gave him a big hug. Then she stood up and took his hand, "All right. Let's go."

Henry nodded, subtly tossing something to Rumple. Once they were gone, Rumple took the keys and made his way through the hospital. First, he stopped at the door marked "scrubs." He noticed they were all made for women. Well, that complicated things. Seems the fireflies are all doctors here. How interesting. He wanted to silence the voice. Except, wasn't the voice what had led him here in the first place? Was it his idea to do this, or that of The Dark One? No, he needed to protect Bae, to protect all of them. He needed to get those blood samples before they were tested.

He tried to be quiet leaving the scrubs room, still in his same clothes. Useless waste of time.

"Sir, what are you doing back here?" A doctor asked.

Rumple smiled, "I'm a close personal friend of Mayor Mills." He said smoothly, "She wanted me to check on something for her."

The woman looked a little dazed, and then she smiled, "Oh, of course," She said.

Well, it seems he had found the magic words, "I just need you to direct me to where the yet-to-be-tested blood samples are kept. For inventory purposes."

"Absolutely. Room 109. It's right down the hall. You can't miss it."

Rumple nodded, "Thank you." He knew he was leaving a trail. It was sloppy, and he hated it. But he didn't have magic, or any other advantages, and he needed those samples. He just prayed they hadn't been tested yet.


Roguishly charming? Adorable accent? Neal couldn't help but huff as he made his way into the sheriff's department. He hadn't planned to go over there, but he passed right by, Ruby's words still ringing in his ear, and he thought, 'hey, maybe he'll know where Emma is.' And maybe he thought, 'maybe he needs to be told that she's married.'

The man that stood there wasn't that good looking. Okay, so he was sort of tall, but what did that matter. Girls didn't really care about that tall, dark handsome thing; it was just a stereotype like girls liking pink and boys liking blue. And even if there was some truth to it, Emma wasn't like that.

"Can I help you?" The man Neal assumed was Sheriff Graham asked. Well, he had an accent, but it wasn't British, so that meant it wasn't sexy, right?

"Yeah, I think so. I wanted to know what you were talking to my wife about this morning?"

Graham cocked his head, "Excuse me?"

"Sorry. Let me introduce myself. I'm Neal Stiltskin. My wife is Emma Stiltskin. I heard you were talking to her at Granny's today."

"And you decided to ask me about it instead of her?"

"Well, I can't seem to … locate her just yet." Neal said, sheepishly.

"Keep her on a tight leash, do you?"

Neal's eyes widened, "What, no, I just -"

"It just seems a little controlling to me."

"Look, I don't know what your game is, but Emma and I, we're solid. You're not touching us."

The sheriff nodded, "I'll keep that in mind."

Neal shook his head. What was he doing? He was acting crazy. He needed to talk to Emma. "Well, that's it I guess. Um, nice meeting you." The sheriff did not return the sentiment. Neal stumbled out, cursing himself. What had he been thinking? Being around all this fairytale craziness was making him act like a lunatic. And if Henry was right and they were facing off against an evil queen, he couldn't afford that. It was just … how could Emma be from The Enchanted Forest? Of all the people he had to fall for, marry, have a kid with, it had to be a princess from back home. It wasn't fair to be angry with her, to be paranoid and jealous. He knew that. But how was he supposed to wrap his head around all of this? He made his way back to Granny's hoping to find Emma. They really needed to talk.


"She's not here," Jack said before Emma could even ask.

"Well, do you know where she is?" She asked, trying to be polite to this asshole.

He shook his head, "She went out. 'Sall I know. Sorry." He did sound to sorry to her.

"It's funny. After what happened, I would she would want to stay home and rest. And I would think you would want to know where she went, check she was safe."

"Well, it's bloody daylight, ain't it? She's hardly gettin' attacked again in the day. And women have things they need to do sometimes. You tell your husband everything?"

Emma shook her head, "Well, I guess I'll stop by some other time then."

"You don't need ta."

"I want to. I want her to know she has a friend who intends to look out for her. I plan to protect her from the bastard who beat her up, and anyone else who might in any way I can."

"What are you, some sort of superhero or something?"

"Just an ordinary woman with ordinary abilities. Well, actually, I do have one superpower. I can always tell when someone is lying to me." Jack gulped, "You tell Aria I stopped by, and to stay strong." Jack nodded, "Oh, and I lied a bit before, because there is nothing ordinary about women, and least of all me. I'm actually quite capable."

She headed back down the steps, smirking a bit. I think I made my point.


"Stupid shot." Henry said, scratching his arm. He had led the nurse around a bit, but eventually, she checked the system for him. When she didn't find him, he said it was all a big misunderstanding, and that must be that, but she seemed to think he had deleted himself from the system. Like he was some ten-year-old computer prodigy. Granted, these computers were pretty low-tech, but still, he was ten. She didn't listen to him though, so he ended up with a flu shot. And he had to give his parents names for insurance purposes, so they would be getting a call soon. Oh well. At least he got a lollipop.

He headed outside of the hospital and saw Aria sitting on the bench there. He hadn't seen her since … before. Not really. She looked really bad. Like a beaten up eggplant. Henry felt so small watching her. Then she turned and smiled at him.

"Henry?"

"Hi," he said, sitting next to her. He handed her his lollipop, "You look like you need this more than I do."

"That's sweet Henry, but you don't have to -"

"It's fine. It's grape anyway."

Aria laughed, but it didn't quite reach her eyes, "Well, honestly, what I need are pain pills, but my husband's insurance … " she paused, getting that look in her eye adults got when they remembered they were talking to a ten-year-old. "It doesn't matter. How have you been?"

Henry shrugged, "I think my parents are having problems. I mean, my dad says they're fine but … I don't know."

Aria nodded understandingly, "My parents are dead." She said sadly, "All I have is Jack."

"Hey, that's my grandpa's name," Henry said.

"Is it?"

Henry nodded, "You'd like him. He should be around any minute now. I'm waiting for him to finish with … something." Aria raised her eyes in question, "I don't know what he's doing. He's been kind of secretive lately."

"Well, you're still lucky to have him."

"I know." He put his hand on her arm, "I'm sorry about your parents."

"Thank you, Henry." She sighed, standing, "I should go."

"Wait, don't you want to meet my grandpa?"

"Maybe some other time."


Wendy was still unhappy. And so was Michael. And so was John. Wendy was awesome, the best friend ever. And Michael, he was so like Asher it made Alice ache. And John, well, Wendy was right, he could be stupid, but when they called him on it, he would get all embarrassed an apologize. He would give this sheepish smile that did something weird to Alice's stomach, though she wasn't sure why. And they all wanted to go home.

Alice realized that maybe she did too. Because the more Wendy talked about how much her family loved her, how much they must be broken up about her and John and Michael being gone, the more Alice thought of her father, and how protective he was, and how sad he must be. He probably thought she was dead, and that made Alice ache. She'd been in Neverland long enough. It was time for them all to go home.

Peter would never let them, Alice knew that. Wendy he might let go, but the darlings were a package deal. As for Alice herself, the time to fess up to being a girl had long since passed, and Peter would sooner kill her than let her go now. She'd seen him with Wendy, the way he played with her, scared her, and smiled when she cried. How had she ever thought him sweet?

She knew nobody left Neverland without Peter's say so, but maybe with some help …

Alice pulled out the bottle that had somehow survived the storm. She supposed it was because it was magic. "Papa, It's Alice. I'm trapped in Neverland with my friends. Please come."

"Alice is it?" She heard Peter say, jumping down from a tree branch next to her. "Not James then?"

Alice started, turning to him and doing her best to hide the bottle behind her back.

"I knew there was something off about you from the beginning. I suspected for a while, in fact. But you seemed so determined to be a lost boy, and I've never turned a lad away before." He smiled that feral grin of his, "If you wanted to leave, Alice, all you had to do was ask."

"I … I want to leave." She said, hoping he would believe her.

"All right. That can be arranged. Except it's not just you, is it? You want the Darling brats to come with you?"

"They're not happy here, Peter. Can't you see that? Why keep them when they don't want to stay?"

"Because this is MY island, and they are mine." He said, walking towards her, purposefully. She backed up a bit, "As are you, Alice." He grabbed her face in his hand, and she felt his nails dig into her skin. He turned her head from side to side, inspecting it, "Not a whisker on you, but then, as a boy of barely ten, you wouldn't have, would you. It was a great game, but I want to play to." He leaned close, his voice dropping to a whisper, "I don't like being lied to, James." Alice shivered, "You wanted Wendy to stay because girls have something to offer too. Isn't that what you said? Is that what you wanted to prove? Well, you're not ready for what girls have to offer, but if you're so keen to know, I'll just have to show you."

His lips were on hers then, and it tasted foul and wrong. She bit his lip, and she felt him chuckle against her. She felt helpless. No. Not helpless. She was James the lost boy, and she knew how to fight dirty.

No, she was a girl. She was a lost girl, the first, but Peter wasn't. He was a real boy, with the weakness every real boy had. Her knee went up quickly, catching Peter by surprise, and then he was screaming, and she was running.

"Bitch!" He called.

She ran to the camp, waking a sleeping Wendy, Michael, and John. "Peter's mad. He knows we want to leave, and he's having none of it. We have to run, now."

"How will we survive out there?"

"I've been a lost boy long enough to know this Island. I can keep us alive, but we have to keep moving."

They all nodded, following her. Michael grabbed his teddy, and they left the camp, heading to a different part of the forest. Meanwhile, in another forest, Killian Jones heard a message in a bottle and felt a spark of hope for the first time in a very long time.


There was a knock on the door, and Neal rushed to answer, "Emma?"

"Why would Emma need to knock? I assume she has a key."

Neal's face fell slightly, "Yeah, I know, I just … what's up?"

"Didn't you get a call? From the hospital? There was some sort of mishap, and something happened to our blood work. We need to go back in."

"Of course there was." Neal said, grimacing, "Look, I … think I was wrong. I don't think we're related after all."

"What? But you said -"

"I guess I was looking for a connection. For answers. I barely remember my mother, and maybe I just wanted … but that's not that point. It was a dumb theory."

"I thought …" There was a catch in her voice, and it made Neal's heart ache.

"Are you okay?"

Jamie shook her head, "It's just, all my family is gone, and for a second I hoped …"

"Hey, I can still be your friend, be here for you, if you want," Neal paused, thinking, "Or, I could leave you alone. That's your call. But I do have one request. This was all a little crazy, and I'd appreciate it if you keep my theory between us. I mean, who needs to know that I lost my marbles for a week, right?"

Jamie nodded, "I suppose. I … I'll think about it, the friend thing. But you know it's not that same. Having a connection to my parents -"

"I know. I felt the same."

"And to have a brother, and a sister -"

"Emma will be your friend too. I'm sure of it. She's friendly with everyone."

"Sometimes, I just feel lost. Like I've lost everyone, or like everyone's lost me. I don't know where it comes from, or why I'm telling you." She swiped at her eyes.

"Hey, it's okay," Neal said, taking Jamie in a hug.

"What the hell?" Neal looked up, surprised at Emma's voice. He hadn't heard her come in, "What's going on here?"

Jamie pulled back from Neal, "Emma. Hi."

"Hi. Hi? Why are you hugging my husband, in our hotel room, in our bed?"

"Emma, no, it's not … it's not like that." Jamie said, standing up and holding up her hands in a placating manner, "He was just being my friend."

Emma's eyes went to her husband, "Neal?"

Neal nodded, standing, "She was upset. I was comforting her. That's all."

"Upset about what?" Neal and Jamie exchanged a look, saying nothing. Emma looked back and forth between them, "Why was she here at all?"

"We thought-"

"It's not important," Neal said, interrupting Jamie quickly. She looked at him surprised, but Neal shook his head slightly.

"I suppose you two should talk." Jamie said, walking past Emma who stood frozen, "It really wasn't what you think, Emma. We'll talk Monday about Henry."

"You want to give me a better explanation than that half-ass crap you just fed me."

"She was upset, and it was private. You're a social worker. You get that people don't always want to tell what's going on with them."

"Well, she seemed willing to spill until you cut her off. Seems to me, you're the one hiding things." She shook her head and stormed to the closet to hang up her jacket, "You're always the one hiding things."

"Yeah, I suppose you want some upstanding sheriff who is far too decent to break up a marriage -"

"What?"

"Ruby saw you having breakfast with the good looking sheriff. Said you guys looked cute together."

"Are you serious right now? You're accusing me of something after what I just walked in on?"

"That wasn't what it looked like!"

"Yeah, well, Graham crashing my breakfast was exactly what it looked like. Him crashing my breakfast, talking to me for a minute, and then leaving, so don't you dare turn this around on me! You tell me nothing for years, and I let it slide, and now Jamie …" Emma shook her head and collapsed onto the bed, "How can I trust you?"

"You … you don't trust me?" Neal asked, deflated.

"I don't know. I love you, but sometimes, I just don't know who you are."

Neal sighed, taking a seat next to his wife, "I'm a guy who … is going through something. Something kind of big. And he doesn't know how to deal. But … I'll figure it out. I know I will. Because if I don't, I lose you, and I could never … I can't lose you."

Emma didn't say anything. She just sat there. Neal noticed she was crying. He wanted to hold her, to wipe the tears from her eyes but if she pushed him away … he just didn't know if he could handle that.

"Em, please, say something."

"Neal, I …" She let out a breath and seemed to just deflate.

"Hey, remember when we found out about Henry? You were so scared, and I told you that we'd be okay. That you and I could handle it?"

Emma snorted, "You said 'We got this, Em. What's one more mouth to feed?' "

"You didn't know if you could be a mom, but I told you that we would be a parenting dream-team. Because you and me, together, we could handle anything, from ogres to munchkins."

"Yeah, I always thought the phrasing was weird, even for you." Emma said, smiling a little through her tears, "Neal, you can't just push this under the rug with memories and pep talks."

"Just tell me we're going to be okay. Anything else, I can handle. You need space. I have to sleep with Pop tonight. I'm getting the silent treatment, a sexual dry spell. I have to sit through a Gilmore Girls marathon-" Emma snorted, "Anything. But just tell me that we're gonna be okay."

Emma looked at him, her eyes wide and bright and wet, "Can you tell me no more secrets?"

"I … I can tell you that someday, in the very, very near future, there will be no more secrets. I will tell you everything, about my mom, and where I come from, why I freaked out about this town, and what Jamie and I were talking about. All of it. And if you still want me afterwards, then … but today, today just isn't that day, Em. I'm sorry."

Emma nodded, "Someday … someday is something." She stood up, brushing her hair back and wiping her cheeks, "I am going to need some time, some space, but if you mean it, I mean really mean it, Neal, then, yeah, I think we'll be okay."

A smile broke out on Neal's face, and he grabbed Emma, hugging her close to him, "Neal."

He stepped back, "Yeah, space. I get it. I just … I'm just so … thank you, Em. Thank you. I'd be lost without you."

Emma smiled, "Me too."


"I heard you had a disruption in the hospital."

"Can I offer you some coffee, Madam Mayor?" Alana said, smiling.

"Oh, don't bore me with pleasantries. I want to know what happened."

"Since when are you so interested in my hospital?"

"Since that little family came to town and turned it all upside down just by being here. And this is my town, which makes the hospital my business."

"Well, as I'm sure you know, a lab tech mixed up all the viles of samples. We're having people come in for retesting."

"Anybody opt out the second go-round?"

"Not to my knowledge. And I'm sure my nurses told you the same when you questioned them."

"Funny. This town is supposed to be loyal to me without a thought."

"And they are, aren't they?"

"Quite. But you, my dear, you have your own mind."

"Well, you did decide to wake me up. That does not, however, make me disloyal."

"It had better not. I've got a meeting for some silly town thing. You keep your hospital in better order from now on."

"I will do my best." Alana said, watching her "friend" walk out in a huff.

So dramatic.

Yes, the nurses were loyal, but they were also as pliable as any mortal in a mortal world. This may be a world without magic, but there were other things that a woman with access to both modern and eastern medicine could use. She certainly had enough to "confuse" a nurse or two. And if that nurse had told her that a well-dressed, grey-haired older man with a Scottish accent had been nosy about that room, well, Alana Drake would certainly take that under consideration. When she saw that the tests involved the newcomers and a blood-based DNA test, well, that was another thing to consider. And Alana Drake always considered things carefully.


"You did something to the blood test, didn't you Pop?"

Rumple shook his head as he undid his tie, "It was necessary. You know that."

Neal nodded, "Yeah. I guess I do. This curse, it's gonna be a hellava mess."

His father nodded again, heading for the bathroom, "Are you going to leave me to change?"

"I'll be back when you're done. I'm, uh, on the couch, as it were."

"What?" he approached Neal now, putting his hand on his shoulder, "Son-"

"It's fine. She just … needs time. We'll be okay. Once this is over … I can finally tell her at least. Truth is, things have been difficult, ya know. Keeping secrets, telling lies. That's not a marriage. Her being from there, in some way, it almost makes it easier."

"She still doesn't know. She still won't believe you."

"I know, believe me," Neal said, flopping on the bed, "But that's tomorrow's problem."

Rumple sighed, "I suppose I'm changing in the bathroom. And I will need my bed back. Don't worry, we'll order you a mattress."


She had been dreaming of watching the sunrise. It had been so long since she'd seen one. Time was funny in Neverland. Alice wasn't sure how long she had been on the island, or how long she and the Darlings had been on the run. It was long enough for a fight with the lost boys. Alice had started teaching Wendy and the boys to fight. There was no way to know how long the would be running, and if the time came, they might all find themselves fighting Pan for their lives. Alice wasn't sure she could take him in a fight. She could take the other lost boys, and she had, both in play, and when it had counted. Pan was different though. This was his island and …

But it was no use getting worked up. She looked around for what had woken her. There were sounds of a struggle nearby. Quickly, she went to check on her friends who it turns out were also stirring from their slumber.

"Who is it?" John asked, "I mean, it's not us obviously, so …"

Alice put her finger to her lips. John could be such a dolt sometimes. He made a motion as though locking his lips with a key and then dramatically mimed throwing it toward the river. Alice rolled her eyes, trying not to smile. She beckoned the gang to follow her. Hiding behind a bit a rather large plant, Alice peered out and saw two unfamiliar boys fighting with Pan's crew. No, not unfamiliar. They weren't lost boys, and they were slightly older than when she had last seen them, but they weren't unfamiliar. LIAM! ASHER! She wanted to call to them but knew better than to give away their position. She kept searching, seeing some of her father's crew in the fray, and then, MAMA! PAPA! They were all there. It took everything she had not to run to them.

For a minute she just watched, mesmerized, but then she saw something that terrified her; she saw her father hesitate. He was squaring off with Pan, and he was seeing a child. Oh Papa, she thought, he's no child.

She picked up her weapon of choice, a very sharp stick with a little something extra. She'd been saving it for a rainy day. She motioned for the others to stay, and then she shot up into the air.

"This is my island, pirate. No rescue parties allowed. If you agree to leave peacefully, I may -"

And then she had him on the ground. He spun from her, pushing her weapon away with his own.

"Nice entrance, but sloppy plan altogether. You barely nicked me." Pan said, his eternal laugh on his lips, "You'll have to do better than …" he faltered, stumbling.

"Nicking you was all I needed."

Pan stared at her, shocked, "Poison?"

Alice nodded, "You've the cure on this island. You know how to evade death to well and … I don't really want to kill you. But you're weak. And you don't have time to fight us and find a cure. You're on a clock now. Tick tock. Tick tock. So is it a race for your life, or for your prisoners?"

"My boys-"

"You'll call those off, because if you don't, we'll fight you until your last. If you want to figure out what ails you and go get your cure, then I suggest letting us leave yourisland. We won't be returning."

"Oh, but you will. I taught you well, but while you go off and grow up, grow soft, I'll have years to plan and scheme. And one day, when you least expect it, I will find you. And you will pay. I don't lose, James. I may need to load the dice, but I always win the hand in the end."

"Then … you won't try to stop us?"

"Hardly have a choice at this point. But this isn't over. Mark my words, James. We will see each other again."

And then he flew off, and his boys followed suit, confused looks on their faces.

Alice ran, and was scooped up as she did. Somehow, even being mere inches from the ground, it felt so much better than flying, "You were brilliant, little love."

Alice took in the smell of old leather. "I missed you, Papa."

"We missed you too. Sorry it took so long."

"How long was I gone?"

"I … it's been three years." Alice gasped, "We thought you were dead, taken by the storm. Seven months ago I got your message, but I had no way to get here. We went to every sorcerer we knew of, followed every lead until we found someone who could enchant the ship."

Alice looked up, "The Jolly Roger survived."

"Aye. She was a bit worse for wear, but she made it. As, it appears, did you. And now she's airborne, as it appears are you."

There was some throat clearing behind them. Alice left her father's embrace, if a little reluctantly. "Papa, these are my friends, Wendy, John, and Michael."

"Sir, could your vessel take us back to London?" Wendy asked.

"I don't see why not. Uh, where is that?"

"You don't know? But, you're English."

"John," Wendy hissed.

"What? Doesn't he sound English?"

"There's no magic in the land they're from, Papa."

"I see. Well, if there's no magic, then …" Killian exchanged a helpless look with his wife.

"We'll find a way." Milah spoke up, "And you can stay with us in the meantime. What's another three mouths to feed?"

"Mama!" Alice cried, running again to the arms of a loving parent.

"I've missed you my darling."

"Hey, that's our name," Michael said, causing Alice to laugh.

They all boarded The Jolly Roger and flew off into the sky, Neverland and all the nightmares it brought disappearing behind them. It seemed it would all be all right. Still, Pan's voice echoed in Alice's head, "This isn't over. Mark my words, James. We will see each other again."


"What happened to your hand?" Jamie turned, startled to see Henry, Neal and Emma's son. Well, it wasn't him exactly that she had been startled to see, but she had been lost in thought. It seemed to happen quite a bit lately. After what had happened in Neal and Emma's room, she had made her way out of Granny's, and she was going to leave, but she found herself sitting on the steps outside for a while. Did she believe Neal was her brother? Did she believe he wasn't? Did she want him to be? He had seemed so sure before; why was he so sure of the opposite now?

"It's not polite to sneak up on people Henry."

"Sorry," Henry said, taking a seat next to her, "But you were just sitting here. And I was just wondering …"

Right. He had asked her a question. A question about … "That's not polite either."

"Wondering?"

"Asking someone what happened to a body part they may be missing."

"Oh." Henry said, his face falling, "But since I didn't know -"

"That doesn't make it all right."

"Are you mad?"

Jamie thought about the question, "I don't mind so much, I suppose. But in the future-"

"Right. But does that mean you'll tell me?"

"Interrupting is also impolite." Henry looked down again, abashed, "You really want to know?" Henry nodded eagerly. Jamie sighed, "It was … a boating accident." She said, after giving it some thought.

"You sail?"

"I … no. No, I don't. I hate the water; never found my sea legs."

"Then why-"

"It was just something that happened once. It wasn't a habit."

"But do you remember, like really, really remember?"

"Of course I do. Why would you ask that?"

Henry shrugged, "Just a theory." He hopped up, "I've gotta go. My parents'll be looking for me soon. Goodnight."

"Henry?" Henry stopped, "You start and my school on Monday. I expect you to be polite, prepared, and punctual. Understood?"

Henry shrugged, "Sure." Jamie quirked an eyebrow, "I mean yeah, yes. Okay."

Jamie smiled, "Off to bed with you then. It's quite late. I'll see you Monday."

Henry nodded, heading up the stairs. He wasn't a bad kid, if in need of a little discipline. Why had she never had kids, again? Something tugged at her memory, and her eyes felt uncharacteristically wet. Then it was gone, and Jamie headed home to prepare for another day.

Chapter Text

 Chapter Seven: To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

Thwack. A snowball hit Aurora straight in the face. It hurt, and she wanted to cry, but she also wanted to laugh.

Today had been so miserable. Another ball was coming up, and she had been in with the royal dressmaker for what felt like forever, suffocated by fabric and pricked by pins. It was the first snow of the season, and all Aurora had wanted was to go out and play in it, but her mother had insisted on the fitting. Never mind that she had hundreds of dresses from every other ball they had thrown since she was old enough to walk. She needed a new one. Because this ball was the ball where she might meet her true love … which made it exactly like all the others. Her parents felt it was so important that she had a true love, but to her, it seemed so dull. She just wanted to play, and maybe a friend to play with. All the sons of royals she had met had been so boring and stupid. She just wanted to have fun.

After a lot of childish begging, her mother had consented to let her go out and play for a little an hour and no longer. She was barely in a slip and she was freezing, but she didn't care. She couldn't get out here fast enough. And now, it seemed, she was being pelted with balls of snow.

She grabbed up some snow and clumped it in her hand, throwing straight where the snowball had come from. She heard it land and she smiled.

"Great arm." Said the boy hiding on her other side. She hadn't even seen him sneak up.

She looked down at her arms, so pale and perfect in the winter cold. The boy's arms were covered in dirt. "I usually wear sleeves in public." She said. He looked at her funny, "Your arms darker than mine. I don't know why that is. Do you?"

"What are you on about?"

"My arms. You said -" the boy started laughing, "Hey, quit it!" she said, stamping her foot, which caused their hiding space to collapse a bit. He grabbed her hand and pulled her down so they were both on their stomachs. Aurora shivered.

"Lulu'll be spotting us soon if you don't quit it." He said.

"Lulu?"

"My sister. She's on the other team, you know."

"There are teams? I don't even know how to play." She felt like she was giving up something important, admitting this huge fault, but the boy just smiled.

"It's easy. And you'll be good. You've got a good arm, which means you can really throw."

"Oh. Well, I feel foolish."

A girl, flanked by two boys, started running around to the side of them. Aurora felt the boy squeeze her hand,

"Come on!" He cried, pulling her after him. "Scoop while you run!"

"What?" She yelled over the roar in her ears.

He shook his head laughing and plopped a poorly constructed snowball in her free hand using his free hand, "Can't pack them well while we're moving, but something is better than nothing. Aim. Fire!"

Without thinking, she flung the snowflakes at their pursuers. Eventually, they found shelter behind a snow-covered bolder.

"I'll pack, you throw, got it?"

Aurora nodded. They went on like that for a bit, laughing as they played games of war.

"So, are we the ogres, or the soldiers?" Aurora asked.

He smiled at her, "We're the ones that win." He gave her a rather large snowball and nodded, his eyebrows going up and down. She aimed and heard the splat.

"All right. That's enough of that!"

Aurora sighed. She knew that voice. Time to stop playing then.

"She's such an old hag." Aurora said.

The boy laughed, "That she is. But her stomping around probably means I should be elsewhere. I best get back to the kitchen."

"Is that where you work?"

The boy nodded, "My father's the cook here, see? What does your father do?"

"He … well, I'm not sure actually."

He laughed again, "You're a laugh, you are. You can play with us anytime. I'm Philip by the way."

"Princess!" Marta shouted.

"Guess something's up with her highness. I'll see you."

He ran off then, the others trudging behind. "Goodness Princess, you're all filthy," Marta said as she reached her. She was clucking her tongue disapprovingly. "What on earth … ?"

"I had fun." Aurora said, "I want to play always in the snow with the servants' children. They know what fun is."

Marta kept clucking, "Come on inside and get cleaned up. What were you thinking, going out in that slip of a thing? You'll catch your death out here."

Aurora smiled as she followed Marta, ignoring her clucking. I had fun, she thought. I made a friend.


"-downsizing again, but hopefully he won't let me go. Not that I relish sitting in that office for a long time to come, but right now I need the money." He grabbed her hand and held it, "Not that I need to tell you that." He stared down at the hospital bed, at the beautiful girl hooked up to all those machines, "Someday, it will all be right. When you wake up, we'll figure the rest out. We'll get a loan and start that small stable we've been talking about-"

"What nonsense are you spouting?"

He stood, "Miss Drake. I -"

"Have no right to be here. You," she called, stopping one of the nurses, "Who let this boy into my daughter's room?"

"Um, I don't … Ma'am I -"

"Ma'am? Do you not know who I am? Let me help you. I am Alana Drake. My family founded this hospital. I have personally put a great deal of money and time into it, and I expect my daughter's care to be a high priority. Now if you would keep this … this menace away from her-"

"I'm her boyfriend."

"Were. Until you landed her in a coma. And now you've come to what exactly?"

"They say that if I talk to her-"

"Ah yes. Well, I know a great deal more about medicine than you, and I can guarantee that your being here doesn't help her in the slightest. If I were more pragmatic, I would have cut off the oxygen already, because the odds of her waking up are slim to none. However, as she is my daughter, I find myself too sentimental." Alana circled the girl's bed, "So she lies there, sleeping away her life because you put her there." Her steely eyes met his, and then she turned again to the nurse, "Well, are you going to remove him or do I have to find someone more competent?"

"Yes, Ms. Drake. This way young man."

He sighed, glancing back. Once he was gone, Alana leaned down and pressed a kiss to the sleeping girl's forehead, "Such a pity I don't love you," she whispered, "not that it would make a difference in this world. Your prince may visit again, but he will never wake you, dear. Think about that as you slumber."


"Rise and shine sleeping beauty. Time to face the day."

Emma groaned. She heard curtains being pushed aside and then bright light blinding behind her eyelids. She tried to squeeze them shut.

"Come on, Emma. It's time to get up." Emma shook her head, hugging the covers. Hands grabbed her hands and slowly pulled the covers back. Emma's pink bunny rabbit pajamas ran through her head and she leaned forward, butting her head against the offender.

"Ow."

"I'm getting up. Relax. Don't be a perv."

"Perv? I've seen your pajamas, Emma."

Emma groaned again. The groan turned into a yell and she threw back the covers.

"Stop smirking."

"My dad said he'd buy you other pajamas."

"Your dad isn't Daddy Warbucks, Neal. Besides, I like these pajamas." She didn't. They had been hand-me-downs at the foster home. But they were one of the only things she had ever owned and been allowed to keep with her.

"He bought you clothes for school. And, in case you forgot, you start today." Emma winced, "It's not so bad. I started last year."

"Everybody knows I'm the runaway foster kid that your family is adopting. They're gonna stare at me like I'm some freak."

"When my dad and I showed up here, we were major freaks. You can't even guess. If Aunt Ginny and Uncle Josh hadn't taken us in and helped us get started …"

"You know, nothing makes you feel less like a freak than to know you're living with a bunch of freaks."

"All I'm saying is we're all freaks here. Come on. I'll introduce you to all the best freaks at school. I promise. I'll help you fit in if I have to take on a bunch of ogres to do it."

Emma laughed, despite herself, "Ogres? What are you, some Dungeons and Dragons nerd?"

"That game is really inaccurate."

"Okay, weirdo. Get out of my room so I can get dressed."


"Mom?" Emma was startled out of her reminiscence by a pounding on her door. She winced. She didn't want to get up. She wanted to lie in bed for the next … ever. But she couldn't; she had things to do. So, she threw back the covers and headed to the door to find her son, fists poised to knock again.

"Can I help you?" She asked, smirking.

"You and dad have to take me to Storybrooke Elementary today, remember?" Emma nodded.

Technically, Henry wasn't starting at the school yet. The paperwork for that would take longer. But Ms. Jones had been kind enough to let Henry test out for a day to make sure the school was a good fit. If it wasn't, well, they would figure it out.

Henry had to be in school, and it had to be a school that was good for him. Henry mattered more than anything else, so whatever was best for him was what they would do. But they had to stay here. And it wasn't just because she had already told Mary Margaret that they would. It was … she could feel they had to. People needed her here. And Henry seemed to agree with her.

"Where is dad?" Henry asked. She hadn't even noticed him as he whizzed past her into the room. He was now sitting on her bed, looking around. His question sunk in and Emma tried not to visibly react. They hadn't talked about it, about what to tell Henry. And Emma didn't lie to her kid. But …

"He's up already, I think. Probably went to get breakfast for us." It wasn't a lie. Not technically. For all she knew, Neal was up. And if he was up, he might have gone to get breakfast. But she had never lied to Henry before. Not really. And she felt …

"Well, you should get dressed. We don't want to be late."

Emma nodded, "Right. Just give me a minute, okay?"

Henry nodded, leaving the room. He seemed really excited. He liked Storybrooke; he'd been pretty clear about that. Neal had seemed … well, he had seemed like he might like it too at first, but also …

When Emma had met Neal he had seemed so, well, weird. He was way too polite for a kid around her age, and he talked about stuff that made no sense. But he and his dad had clearly loved each other so much it made Emma ache. And when he invited her to be a part of that love, when they both had, how could she not jump at the chance? Even if they were weird. Even if they said weird things and kept secrets. It was her first real home and she wasn't going to screw it up just because … and Neal had been there for her. He had sat with her at lunch and taught her how to play games and he had been sweet to her. He stood up for her and listened to her. Her was her family in every sense of the word.

But he kept secrets. He had always kept secrets. Even Aunt Ginny and Uncle Josh didn't know everything. As much as Emma didn't want to admit it, it had always bothered her. She trusted him to look after her, to love her, to love and protect Henry, but was that enough when in so many ways, she'd never really known him?


It had started with a wave of anger stirring in his chest. She threw an ax at his head! Why would somebody do that? Clearly, that chick was insane. If he were smart, he would never go to The Glass Slipper again. So why did he find himself drawn there? He told himself it was just a coincidence. He just happened to be wandering to this part of town. He had no intention of … it was a coincidence that he ended up behind the establishment. And there she was, having a smoke behind the dumpsters.

She was the pretty sort without all that gaudy makeup. Terribly pale and terribly blonde in an attractive sort of way, not that he was the sort to go for pale blondes. He felt something in his chest. A lurch. How … unfamiliar or was it terribly familiar?

He felt his feet move before he realized what he was doing or why he was doing it. And then there it was: the realization. It was like a splash of cold water, and some desperate part of him tried to stay his feet. Some voice howled in his head that he was not to take another step; he was not to do what he knew he was about to do. Kind eyes. A giggle. If he could just make his feet stop.

His feet were not his own. His hand was not his own. His arms came around her from behind. She cried out in surprise, and he reached up, covering her mouth. She bit his hand, but he didn't move it. He spun her around to face him, careful to keep her mouth covered. He shoved her down and began kicking. Her mouth was no longer covered and she screamed and cried. It burned his ears. He saw a lake, somewhere and a bonfire. He saw the tearstained face of the girl before him, and he felt sick. Why was he doing this? Had she really done anything so horrible to him?

Her cries stopped. She was unconscious, bleeding from the head. He wanted to stay, to cradle her head and to dial an ambulance. It was lunacy. What would he say? He couldn't stay here. He wanted to, but …

Jack jerked awake struggling for breath. What in the bloody hell was that?

A nightmare, he reassured himself, just a nightmare. He tried to remember. It was something involving that lass from The Glass Slipper. He couldn't recall all of it, but there was a cold, sinking feeling in his throat and in his gut. There had been something … wrong about the dream. He wasn't sure what, or why, but something made him feel like he wanted to be rid of his dinner.

He went to the bathroom and stood over the toilet for a bit but nothing came out. Just a dream that I barely remember. He made his way back to bed. Then, shaking his head, he got up again, went down to the kitchen, and got a glass of water to calm his nerves.

He could see Aria from here, passed out on the couch. She didn't look pretty when she slept, all mouth open and makeup smeared. She was snoring a bit, and he snorted at the absurdity of it. How had they ended up together? He couldn't quite remember if he was honest. It seemed that they had always been married, and he had always been unhappy.

He noticed her shiver a bit and something in him wanted to cover her over with a blanket and keep her warm. He made to get something from the linen closet, but something stilled his steps.

He couldn't control his feet.

No, that was the nightmare.

He took another sip of water. Everything was fine. And it wasn't as though she didn't know where the linen closet was. If she was cold, she could certainly go and get a blanket. She didn't need him to play knight in shining armor.

And he was exhausted. It felt like he hadn't slept at all. He had no patience for the comforts of his bookworm wife. Wasn't she the one who always made him so miserable? Impeded his comfort? The recent incident, when he had tried to show her husbandly affection, and she had provoked him until he snapped and hit her. And then she had the nerve to go and complain to everyone and their mother, though thankfully she left his name out of it.

There was that newcomer though, the feisty blonde. Feisty blondes were no more his type than pale blondes. And she thought she knew him, thought she had his number. Well, let her try and go after him. He had Mayor Mills' protection, didn't he? Nobody in this town could bloody touch him with The Mayor on his side.

The Mayor. Mayor Mills. Now there was a woman with a proper complexion and a redhead to boot. And her accent had just the right tone to it. He heard it in his head, so clear and plain, "Now off to bed with you. Dream sweet, sensual dreams of me, and then wake up angry that they are just dreams and you'll never know what it's like to touch me. There's a good knave. Forget what you've done tonight, and dream a nice naughty dream until your sheets are good and wet. Tomorrow is a new, miserable day."

And he did as she said, blonde and brown hair flashing in his head before switching itself out for red. He settled in, feeling it in his hands, smelling the woodsy scent, knowing he would have sweet dreams.


Zelena smelt his cologne before she felt his lips on hers. The Evil Queen, Wicked Witch of the West, being woken with True Love's Kiss; what a laugh. And it wasn't her true love, but he was her husband. The irony was lovely. She would enjoy it more if she hadn't been so tired from her late night, and if her dream hadn't been so pleasant. Oh well. Another day it seemed. Someone had seen fit to restart time, and she fully intended to put a stop to it, but in the meantime …

"Good morning, my charming prince." She said, yawning.

"Good morning my princess."

"I prefer Queen," Zelena said, trying to keep the humor in her voice.

"Then I'll get down on my knees and see if I can worship you properly." He said, smiling. Was he truly this dirty-minded on his own, or had that been the curse? Well, Zelena liked it. It's funny, her first time with David had been, well, her first time ever. She'd never … before the curse. Now her body responded to his a certain way. She didn't love him. She knew that. She had only ever loved one man. She loved him still, even after his betrayal. But she had never given herself to him, or to anyone. There was something in the way she felt when David was trying so earnestly to please her. It was nice and strange. She never knew what to make of it.

In the beginning, it had been a bit of a shock, actually. David had brought her to home after the party celebrating her re-election. The children had gone have to bed. David had smiled at her, pointing out that they were finally alone, and maybe it was time to celebrate in private. He had carried her to their bedroom and gently placed her on the bed. He had placed a kiss to her lips and she had wondered if this is what Snow White had felt. There was a thrill in that of course.

She had expected him to lie down next to her, but he hadn't. He had gotten on the bed by her feet and started climbing his way up. He kept whispering that he wanted to please her.

She remembered feeling scared, but this was her curse. This was the first day of her curse, and surely he wouldn't do anything to harm her. Then she had felt the pressure. Something shifted and dropped deep inside of her. Much as she hated David, she would never share that experience with someone else. It had gotten a little boring over time, but perhaps that is just what happens after twenty-eight years. And most importantly, it was her and not Snow White that he wanted to please, kept trying to please over and over again.

He was just getting in position when the phone rang. "I'll, uh, let you get that," David said, grinning sheepishly.

"Good morning, Mayor Mills."


"Announcing her Royal Highness Talia of The Northern Kingdom."

Queen Talia looked every bit as regal as the royals expected as she entered the throne room. She stood tall, curly red hair atop her head and white makeup on her face. Her gown was extravagant, but it seemed to fit her well, and there was something to the way she carried herself; Briar Rose could feel in her soul that this woman would bow to no man.

"Your Highness," she said, rising to greet her fellow, "Welcome to our kingdom."

"We were expecting your husband as well," Stephan said. Briar Rose shot him a look. He was never as subtle as her when it came to politics.

"My husband was detained." Queen Talia said, "I hope that is not an inconvenience."

"This is simply the beginning of what we hope will be a beautiful friendship between our families and our kingdoms. More importantly, a friendship between our children."

Queen Talia looked startled, "I beg your pardon."

"We wish to negotiate a betrothal between our daughter Aurora, and your son. Phoebus, I believe, is his name?"

The Queen shook her head, "My son was called Phoebus; it is true. And my daughter was called Luna. They were beautiful babies, my sun and moon children. I believe they would have grown to be strong, beautiful children." She blinked twice and sat up straighter, "But they are dead."

Briar Rose gasped, "I … I don't understand. We thought -"

"It is rather simple. My mother-in-law, the late Queen, did not approve of her son's choice. She had our children killed in a very brutal way; you will forgive me for not divulging the details. We have not been blessed with more children since her passing." She made to stand, and Briar Rose and Stephan stood as well, trying to remember to be polite amid their shock and horror, "Now, if that is all, I shall take my leave. I do not wish to rehash past pain."

Her gown swished behind her as she left.

The King and Queen were quiet for a time.

"Stephan," Briar Rose finally said.

"I know. We should … we must summon the fairy. Get some clarity."

"Yes. Very well." Briar Rose hated summoning Green. She hated calling her such. Of course, their former patron fairy had preferred the nickname Tinkerbelle, but to Briar Rose, she would always be her family's fairy: the true green fairy. How she missed her.

"Green Fairy!"

And The Green Fairy appeared, "Your Highness. How may I be of assistance?"

"You told us that our daughter's true love was the son of The King and Queen of the Northern Kingdom. You told us his name. Well, we have just spoken to Queen Talia, and her son is long dead."

"Perhaps they'll succeed in having more children," Stephan began, but Briar Rose shook her head.

"You told us his name. It was Phoebus. That was her son's name, and a grieving mother would not dishonor her son's memory by trying to replace him with a new one."

The Green Fairy smiled sadly, "The future is unclear, even to those of us with magic. I do not know everything. But that boy is your daughter's true love."

"But he's dead!" Briar Rose said, not bothering to hide her despair, "You know that Maleficent will try again. She is still so angry, still in so much pain -"

"I care not for pain after what she did to you!" Stephan said.

"You did not know her as I once did! She is what I made her." Tears stung her eyes as she spoke, "Regardless, she still carries hate in her heart for us. I was lucky to have found my true love before she cursed me, and he still had to fight long and hard to get to me and wake me up. She will go after Aurora one day. I know she will. If she does not have a true love to wake her … then all will be lost. Please," she implored The Green Fairy, "Please, you must help us protect our daughter."

"I have told you all I know. I could take your daughter into hiding. Protect her until -"

"You took me into hiding for years, and it did no good. She'll find her, as she did me. If you can't help us …"

"Could she have another? I knew of a boy who married his true love, and then she died. He met and married another some decades later."

"It is possible, but the signs tell me that -"

"The signs are clearly useless. We will deal with this ourselves. You are dismissed."

The Green Fairy shrunk and flew away.

"We'll find her someone. We'll invite every kingdom to ball after ball after ball until … we see that spark of love in her eyes. We will save our daughter." Stephan said with a certainty he did not feel.

"We will. We must." Briar Rose agreed before burying her head in his shoulder and letting herself truly cry.


"You are not here to make friends." Jamie Jones said. She stood tall over Henry, and Emma felt like she wanted to pounce on the woman a little. Neal held her back. "You are here to learn. I run a tight ship here Henry, a very tight ship. My students listen when spoken to and do not talk back."

"What if they know the answer?" Henry asked.

Jamie's eyebrows went up a bit, "You'll wear a uniform, which you will keep clean. You will not violate the dress code. The work is hard, but if you apply yourself, you will see results. This is a top school Henry, and that is because I make the rules very clear and people listen."

"He's a kid," Emma said. Jamie turned to her. "Did I forget to raise my hand?"

"Emma," Neal said.

"Look, I'm sorry, but he is just a kid. I want him to follow rules, but it seems like you're trying to scare him straight, and I don't think -"

"Some children need to be scared straight."

"Henry is a good kid."

"If so, he shouldn't have any trouble."

Henry raised his hand.

"Yes, Henry?"

"I want to try it out." He turned to his parents, "I mean, we're staying here, right? And this is the school. And honestly, it doesn't seem so bad. I can follow rules."

"I know you can sweetie, but-"

"Don't you want to stay?" Henry asked, his eyes big.

"Of course."

"And you're going to make me go to school either way, right?"

"Well, we could discuss homeschooling. Maybe -"

"If we're going to have a life here, I want to know the kids. I want to be here. Let me try."

Emma sighed, "Give us a minute?"

"As you like," Jamie said, sitting back at her desk.

Emma pulled Neal aside, "I know I was all gung-ho about staying, but I feel like maybe this school could be a mistake. She seems … I don't know …"

"Is this maybe more about yesterday than-?"

"What, because I caught her in a compromising position with you?"

"It wasn't-"

Emma put up her hand to stop him, "This isn't about that. I don't think. I just want to make the best choice for Henry. We're uprooting him. Again, my fault, but -"

"We're not signing a contract. The transfer papers haven't gone through yet. Let him try it out, like he said, like you said this morning until Jamie spooked you."

"I'm not spooked. I just … I want to trust her, and you, but right now -"

Neal shook his head, "Henry knows he can come to us. If it isn't right, he'll tell us. He wants to try. Let's let him try."

They made their way back around the room "Okay. Continue being scary."

"I imagine in your line of work you've had to be a tad scary as well, Mrs. Stiltskin?"

"Yeah. Sometimes. But not to kids. Kids get scared enough."

"The world isn't all roses, and they best know that. That's always been my thought process."

"You ever had kids?"

She blinked a couple of times as though confused by the question, "I … no, I … not my own. But I've been running this school for nearly as long as I can remember, and I care deeply for each student. It's why I'm tough. They may think me a monster now, but they'll be better for it in the end."


A piece of fabric hit Aria's face. She flinched, but she didn't open her eyes.

"Oi! Get up, yeah!"

With a sigh, she sat up, the item of clothing falling to her lap. She held it up in her hands. "It's a dress." She stated, confused.

"Well, we're eatin' at The Mayor's tonight, ain't we?"

"Right."

"She gave me a bonus yesterday, told me to spoil my wife with a new outfit."

Aria tried not to scoff, "How kind of her."

"She is kind!" Aria nodded, standing, examining the dress more closely. "It's your size. I know your size, ya know. Ain't some fellow don't know how his wife's shape looks. Not that I've seen much of it."

"Not that you've been interested." Her eyes widened, realizing what she said. She could never seem to hold her tongue these days.

Jack stared at her, looking ready to pounce. He brought his arm up, and she flinched back, but he didn't strike. Instead, he said, "It should cover your, ya know, bruises well enough. Wear it tonight." Aria nodded, "Stay in the house today. I don't wanna be hearin' about you wanderin' around. I'll, uh, check in on you … later, ya?" Aria nodded again, "Great. Great."

He headed out without a second look at her. She exhaled once he was out of sight, finally feeling like she could breathe again. Then she took another look at the dress. It was pink; not really her style. It was also very modest, but that made sense. She was still pretty bruised up. What she needed was a nice hot soak in the tub, but Jack wasn't too fond of her taking a long time to clean herself. The heating and water bill … he wouldn't know if she just … would he? Best not to risk it. Sighing, she hung the dress on the back of a chair and went back to sleep.


"There's a bump just a bit ahead." A voice behind him said and Rumple felt himself still. Something in him was on edge at the voice, but he had a feeling it wasn't him at all. He heard her heels clack as she continued her way towards him, "I thought you should know. A leg injury like that isn't to be exacerbated."

He turned, finding a thin, tall blonde woman pulling a shall around herself, "Yes, well, I've had the injury for quite some time yet. I know how to avoid bumps in the road, as it were."

She nodded, keeping pace with him, "I apologize if I overstepped. Old professional habit, I'm afraid. Tending to injuries is something I've always done, in one way or other."

Rumple nodded, "Lovely day for a walk. I assume you agree, as you seem to be joining me."

"Well, it is nice to get back to nature, away from all those modern contraptions. They're like eyes on you half the time. Like the security cameras at the hospital?" It took an effort for Rumple to keep his steps even, "The technology is a little outdated of course. Why I heard some of it was downright … misplaced. But perhaps someone saw it first."

He hadn't noticed any security cameras. But perhaps he hadn't thought to look. Careless of you, Dearie, not to look out for yourself. Of course, his curse wasn't used to modern technology. Still, he should have known better.

"Will your son be making another appointment to have his blood tested then? Seeing as the sample is gone."

"I believe that the issue is between my son and the local hospital. I assume you are employed there?"

"Not in so many words, but I have, shall we say, an influence."

"Mm."

"Not so much as The Mayor, of course, but I do know this town better than most. We might, at some point, benefit from each other's acquaintance."

"Then why not skip all the dramatics and call us friends?"

She laughed. It was a deep, throaty laugh, "That's a bit premature. Friends are a luxury. Allies, however, they can be necessary, depending on which way the wind blows."

"You like talking in riddles? I'm told I was good at that once. But, I am better at solving them."

"Well then, here's a riddle. What will a queen do to hold onto her kingdom when it starts to come apart at the seams? Or rather, what wouldn't she do?" The woman stopped walking, "As I said, we may each find ourselves in need of an ally. Something to ponder on your stroll."

She turned in the opposite direction then.

"Might I perhaps have your name before you disappear into the wind?"

Another laugh, "Names are a powerful thing. But you'll find in this town, they don't mean much. Perhaps if you can find a name that fits, I'll answer to it. Good day, Mr. Stilksin."


They hadn't talked so much on the drive back from Henry's school. Neal had fiddled with the radio for a bit, but couldn't seem to settle on a station, so Emma had stilled his hand. She almost pulled hers back, but she knew how fidgety he could get. And it was … nice, to hold his hand as they drove, if even for a moment.

Of course, she was driving, so it couldn't last, but she remembered car rides when Henry wasn't even one. He was a fussy baby, colicky really. Long drives had calmed him down. They had both been nervous, just kids themselves and first-time parents and all that. And they couldn't really talk or listen to music because it might wake Henry. So they just drove, and whenever Emma could get away with it, she would touch Neal's hand or knee or arm and give it a light squeeze. And their eyes would meet in the mirror. They were in this together, colic and all. That was what counted.

This had been an awkward drive, both of them wanting out of the car and jumping as soon as it stopped. Emma had told Neal she had errands to run and Neal had nodded. Now she was waiting outside the Scathe's. She rang the doorbell a couple of times, but nobody came to the door. No lights were on. She should leave.

She headed around the back, looking for another way in. She wasn't going to break in or anything. She was just going to make herself heard.

She knocked on the back porch as loud as she could. Nothing.

There was a sliding door that was translucent. Through it, she could make out a figure on a couch. An unconscious figure.

"Screw it." She'd have to squeeze through. As she tried to figure out how strong the door was, she felt it easily slide open. "Gotta love small towns." Of course, this small town now thought there was someone going around beating innocent women, but it wasn't like the residents of this house didn't know that that was bull.

"Aria!"

The girl jerked awake, gasping, then wincing. She stared at Emma, "Did you just break into my house."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I was asleep."

Emma nodded, "Yeah. So, major overreaction. But nobody came to the door. And I wanted to be sure you were okay. Or, well, as okay as you can be."

Aria nodded, "I should be mad … but I'm hardly going to call the sheriff."

"Good." Aria made to stand, wincing again, "You need a hand?"

"I'm just … still recovering." Emma nodded, "I wish I could get a good night's sleep."

"Might help if you slept in your own bed." Aria said nothing, "You know, it can be hard to leave stuff behind, but sometimes there is something better waiting on the other side. Like a bed you're not afraid to sleep in."

Aria shook her head, "Thank you for checking up on me. But I would really rather sleep. We've got dinner at The Mayor's tonight. I'm going to need my energy."

"Okay. Well, why don't I just … sit with you, for a bit? Just until you're husband returns?'

Again, Aria shook her head, "I know you're trying to help Emma. But, please, just … go."

Emma nodded, "Okay. Well, just know. I'll be around."


"You doin' okay there?" Neal asked the young man sitting beside him outside of Granny's. After wallowing in their hotel room, he had been on his way to pick up some lunch for him and Emma. Things had taken a turn when he had seen the guy, Colt apparently, took a stumble outside Granny's with four or five to-go cups of hot coffee on hand.

He had reacted quickly, helping the guy up, checking for injuries, and doing some basic first-aid. Colt seemed more embarrassed and exhausted than anything else, so Neal figured they should both sit for a spell.

"That was … a lot of coffee."

Colt nodded, "Yeah, well, I got a desk job so …"

Neal laughed, "Been there. If it makes you feel better, there is light at the end of the tunnel."

He looked up, "Yeah?" Neal nodded, but Colt just shook his head and looked back down, "I'm not so sure."

Neal clapped Colt on the back, "You can't have been out of school that long, right?"

Colt shook his head, "I didn't make much of myself in undergrad. Got my associates in business, but I'm really more a man of action. Gia and I had planned on opening up our own stable someday."

"Gia?"

"She's my girlfriend." He smiled slightly, then his face sobered, "Or was. Sort of still is. It's complicated."

Neal nodded, "I get complicated. Got my girl pregnant the before graduation. And we weren't exactly … I mean, we had some money. This nice couple helped my dad and I out a lot when we … immigrated."

"You don't sound like a foreigner."

"Well, I was pretty young. But my dad is pure Scotland. And it wasn't easy, getting papers. I still don't understand half of what they did for us. Dad's credentials from home didn't exactly transfer, and going back to school was a little … anyway, he used to tutor in math. It worked okay schedule-wise for helping out with Henry after he was born, but I knew someone would need to step up, and no way was I letting Emma be the one to opt out of college. So, I took the highest paying job I could find, given I didn't have anything but a high school diploma. I was lucky to live in a small town where people basically knew me and were willing to cut me a break. I didn't see my family anywhere near as much as I wanted in the beginning, and between trying to make up the time with them and my job, coffee and I became the best of friends."

"So, you still doing that? The office gig?"

Neal shook his head, "Nah. The program Emma was in fast-tracked her to a nice starting job, and then I switched to part-time and took some night classes. Took forever to finish what should have just been three years, but now I'm an RN. Or, well, I was. I actually need to call my boss and talk about transferring, what, with the move. Hope she isn't too pissed."

Colt nodded, "Nice story. Happy for you mate. But, my girl isn't exactly pregnant. Frankly, I wish it were that simple. It'd be a little earlier than we planned, but being a dad … I'd love that. 'Sides, anything is preferable to …"

"To … ? You're scaring me a little."

"We were driving. I was driving, and something was in the road. I don't even remember now. And I walked away without a scratch, but Gia … they don't know if she'll ever wake up. I feel like she's been asleep since I don't know when, and I can't even do anything. Her mom won't even let me visit. Not that I don't sneak in when I can, but Dr. Drake's got quite a lot of pull at the hospital."

"That's her mom? She's a doctor?"

"Was. She left it all behind to start up her own to start her own holistic place, but she still has a helluva lot of pull at the hospital. Kicked me out today. Feels like she does every day. But I gotta keep going. I can't just …"

Neal nodded, "It's hard when you can't help someone. It sucks. No better way to say it."

"I just don't know how much longer to keep doing this. It's just me. I'm on my own, you know? Never had a family. Gia left it all behind to run around with me, and instead of giving her a life, I nearly took it away. Every time I close my eyes, I see her not making it, and I just can't see that."

"So you drink coffee?" Neal nodded, "You said you're on your own. Your parents aren't in the picture?"

"Don't remember a time when they were, to be quite honest. Gia's town royalty. I was just some guy trying to make it on the street. Don't know why she even took up with me, took a chance on me."

"Speaking from experience, I'd say she saw something of herself in you, and maybe something she wanted to be. Or, maybe, she just thought you were cute." Colt smiled, "Listen, I'm new to town, so I don't have any pull, and I'm not rolling in money, but if you ever need a friend … let me give you my cell number, okay?"

"Why?"

"My son keeps telling me we're here to help people. My wife might be the chosen one. I gotta do something, right?"

"I'm not sure that made sense." Colt said, tentatively taking the number, "But thanks. I guess."


Henry had made it through the morning all right. His teacher, Mr. Hopper, seemed strict, but also kind. He greeted Henry in a friendly enough tone and sat him next to a girl named Paige. When it was time for lunch, the children all filed out nice and neat.

Henry hadn't actually found Ms. Jones or Mr. Hopper all that strict, though his mom had been a bit momma bear this morning. Maybe it was the curse that made all the kids so proper and respectful. It had to be really.

There was a lot of talking during lunch, but nobody spoke to Henry, so he sat off to his own. Then there was recess, and he saw the kids start to act like kids. They were running and jumping.

There was a group hanging out by the picnic tables playing games. Henry took his book and went to sit there, a little out of the way, and observed. Wasn't that why he was here? Observing? He needed to figure out what was what and, more importantly, who was who.

"All right then. We ready to go?" Paige asked. She was holding a deck of playing cards and looking at the other kids with a curious expression.

"I want to play." A young boy said. He couldn't have been more than six at most.

Paige sighed, "Roland, you're too young. We've -"

"I have money." The boy said, producing necklaces aplenty. Paige gaped at him, "My dad's safe." He said, looking down and toeing the dirt with his shoe.

Paige examined the loot. "Costume jewelry." She declared, "Stop wasting my time. This game is for big kids."

Roland sighed, grabbed the necklaces and walked off muttering.

"All right. If my math is right, you two owe twenty dollars a piece," she said, pointing at two boys who were scowling, "So best remember that before placing any more bets."

"What are you playing?" Henry heard himself ask.

Paige eyes him for a minute, and then turned back to the cards, uninterested, "Poker." She said.

"Paige runs the best game." One of the boys said, "If you ask me, it's the whole point of recess, which makes it the whole point of school."

"You've had a lucky streak," Paige said to the boy, "Maybe it'll keep. Maybe not. All right, who's in? Remember, if you can't afford the pot, you can't play, and don't bet more than you can pay."

The others nodded and presented coins, bills and jewelry likely stolen from their mother's nightstands. And then the game began.


"I thought I heard someone singing out here!"

Aurora jumped at the interruption. She had been humming the waltz, practicing with herself. Another day, another ball. Aurora had been dancing forever, but there was always a new dance to learn. Still, her instructors could be rather stuffy, and it could get rather stifling indoors. Aurora liked to go out into the wooded area by the palace, right by the stream, and just dance like she did back when it was fun.

So she was dancing and humming when he had come up behind her. She would have been mad if she hadn't seen who it was.

"Philip! You startled me," she said, smiling at her friend. She was always happy to see Philip.

"What are you doing out here?" he asked as he leaned against a tree.

"I could ask you the same … but that wouldn't be very ladylike. I was dancing."

"Ah yes. Another ball. Father is working on the menu."

"I wish we could go together. It would be fun with you there."

"I suppose I would just watch you prance around?"

"No silly! You would dance with me too."

Philip looked down, his face turning a shade of red, "I don't know how." He mumbled.

"Well, that's easily remedied." She said, going over to him and grabbing his hands, "Here, I'll teach you." Philips stepped back, nearly falling into the lake, "What's wrong?"

The boy did his best to regain is footing. "Nothing," he said, clearing his throat and straightening his collar, "But I have a better idea. Come on." With that, he turned and headed along the stream.

Aurora hurried behind him. "Where are we going?"

"Just where I was when I heard you singing." He whistled, and Aurora heard a rustling. And then she saw the most magnificent creature draw its head from the stream. Philip strode up next to it, tapping its side, "Gianna, Samson, Samson, this is my friend Gianna."

"Oh my! Is he yours?"

Philip nodded, pride gleaming in his eyes, "Father just procured him. He's not much to look at, but he's strong and loyal and kind. Or I think he is, at any rate. I just got him."

"That's amazing."

Philip nodded, "Would you like a ride?"

"Oh, I couldn't. I … "

Philip takes her hand and aurora feels it tingle, "I'll teach you." Without a word, he lifts her up, and Aurora feels a jolt at being held so close, if for just a moment. Before she can panic, he's behind her, "Another day." He amends, "today, I'll ride with you and keep you safe."

His arms go around her from behind, and then it's just a rush and she can't breathe. He looks at her and she notices how handsome his face has become, how kind his eyes, how charming his smile. They're both fifteen now, nearly grown. When did that happen? When did Philip stop being a boy who she played with and let her pretend she wasn't Princess Aurora? When did he become … well, not a man exactly, but something other?

She heard the wind rush, felt her hair flying in her face, as her cheeks grew chapped. But there was music too. A song she didn't know seemed to be playing. Her heart seemed to be beating to the tune of his name. Philip – Philip – Philip it sang.

When the horse started to slow, Aurora tried to catch her breath again. She tried to slow the thumping of her heart as he helped her down from the horse.

"Quite a feeling, isn't it?" he said, once they were both safely on the ground.

"Philip I … I have something I want to say to you."

"Yes?"

"I can't hear you." He said, laughing that laugh of his, "Anyway, I should get back. Father will need help in the kitchen. But don't forget, I owe you a riding lesson or two. Okay?"

Aurora nodded, and Philip went off. Finally, she found her voice, "I'll dream of him tonight. I'll tell him then."


"So we should probably talk about what we're going to tell Henry," Emma said.

They were sitting on their bed in the Inn. Neal had brought take-out from Granny's. Emma wasn't really hungry anymore, but she tried, thinking maybe it was a peace offering of sorts. They sat on the hotel bed, a few feet apart; Emma was picking at the fries when she realized how ridiculous it was for two grown-ass adults who were married with a kid to not be able to talk.

"Tell him about what?"

"About us. You know, we're not … sleeping in the same room right now. And the kid's sharp. He'll probably notice …"

"I think he already has. I mean, maybe not the sleeping thing, 'cause that's new, but he asked if we were having some sort of problems." Neal smiled a smile that didn't reach his eyes, "He said that this whole trip happened because we fought that day."

Emma shrugged, stifling a half-laugh, half-cry, "Well …"

She hadn't sold it like that to Neal really. It had been more, Henry's got a break in school, my birthday's coming up, and wouldn't it be nice to get away? Neal either hadn't known or hadn't wanted to know.

"I know I'm hard to know, Em. But I want you to know me more than I've ever wanted anyone to know me. It's just scary 'cause there are things …"

Emma's hand covered Neal's, which lay between them on the bed.

"It was hard for me too."

"Why did you trust us? Looking back, I know we were super weird."

Emma nodded, "You were. But truthfully, I didn't have anywhere else to go, and nobody else had ever wanted me. Well, one person, but … you weren't going to hurt me. I could tell. You and your dad were safe. I never had safe before. I liked it."

"We could have been dangerous. We were kind of crazy, and you were a little scared that first day."

Emma nodded, "I guess it was a gut thing. And you guys didn't lie to me, or not in any way that made me think you were dangerous."

"Ah. The lying thing." Neal said with a laugh, then he suddenly turned serious, "You always said it was your superpower."

"It is."

"Does it ever feel … I mean, kind of like magic?"

Emma squinted at him, "Like card tricks or like Harry Potter?"

"More Harry Potter I guess. What I mean is, what if you were a wizard and your parents died fighting Voldemort and you just didn't know? How would you react to all that?"

"I thought about it when I was younger. You know that book came out the same year I met you guys? I read it so many times, wishing for someone to show up and tell me that my family was just waiting for me in some magical land … and then I met you outside that convenience store. You and your dad … you were Hogwarts. You were the whole freaking wizarding world. All I needed …"

Neal grabbed a newspaper out of his bag, "This place is shit for real estate. I couldn't find a single listing."

Emma nodded, "You were looking for a place?"

"I mean, we can't stay at Granny's forever. And we're staying, right? You're solid on that?"

"I'm sorry I didn't consult you. I saw someone in trouble and I just reacted … this town seems so idyllic, but it has problems, Neal. And some of the people … they need someone who can do the things I can do. The nearest Department of Social Services is so far away, and according to them, they've never even heard of Storybrooke." Neal nods, muttering something, "But I shouldn't have decided without talking to you. Or gotten Henry all excited -"

Neal put his other hand on top of Emma's like their doing a secret handshake or something. She looked at their hands, and then lifted her head, meeting his eyes, "Em, I get it. More than you know. You have to be here, and if you have to be here then I have to be here, with you and Henry and Pop. Our family is everything, and I will happily be the peasant boy following the Princess to whatever kingdom she chooses."

Emma snorted, "If I was a princess, wouldn't that make you a prince?"

"Only by marriage. I'd be a prince consort I think. You know, the guy who sits back and lets you rule the country while I satisfy your carnal urges and work on getting you pregnant. "

Emma laughed, "I think those two go together, and you already got me pregnant a decade ago."

Neal, nodded, "Lucky I wasn't beheaded for deflowering the princess, I guess."

"You're such a cheesy idiot," Emma said, shaking her head.

"Does that mean I'm off the couch, so to speak?"

Emma sobered at that, "I … don't know." She got up and started pacing, "I should check on some people again."

Neal nodded, "You'll fill me in on that? I mean, if you want?" Emma nodded, heading for the door, "We're working on us." He said, and she stopped, looking at him, "That's what we should tell Henry. We're working on us."

Emma nodded, and then she was out the door.


"What a lovely dress?" Mayor Mills said as the foursome seated themselves at the table where two children were patiently waiting for them, "Is it new?"

Aria nodded, "Yes. Jack got it for me."

"How sweet. You are so lucky to have him for a husband. I assure you, at work that he fulfills my every need." There seemed to be a laugh of sorts in her voice and eyes, but Aria was probably seeing things. Of course, there was Jack's seemingly overdramatic swallowing. She was certainly not imagining that.

"Surely you're a very patient and understanding boss," Aria said as smoothly as she could.

"Well, I'd hate to be arrogant. Your husband would know better what sort of boss I am." She smiled at her husband, "Mr. Scythe, what do you truly think of me? Don't hold back now. I won't fire you for your honesty."

Jack's eyes widened and he reached for a glass, seeming to forget that it was empty; they hadn't served drinks yet. "I … uh …"

"Oh, I certainly hope I'm not that bad." She said, giggling.

"You're wonderful." He blurted, "As a boss. A wonderful boss. Nobody could think different. And I … wish you would call me Jack." He looked down shyly.

Aria glanced at David to see if he noticed, but he was smiling as though all was right with the world.

"Well, I best get the drinks-"

"I'll go. You work too hard." David said, kissing his wife's cheek.

"He spoils me."

Everywhere she looked made her sick: Jack's besotted, lustful gaze, The Mayor's sickly-sweet smile, David and all his obliviousness. They should be commiserating together. Except that Mayor Mills had done nothing wrong. And what did she want, David to come to blows with her husband? Beat him up? Actually, she would probably enjoy that very much.

Mayor Mills reached forward and touched Aria's hand, giving it a little squeeze. "Tell me, dear, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine," Aria said, not even thinking about it.

"No, really. I want to know. Is there anything I can do? It must have been horrid, feeling so helpless, having someone beat at you and being unable to fight back, you must have felt completely useless."

"I …"

"I'll protect her from now on. She knows she can count on me, don't you Aria?" Jack said, his eyes boring into her.

She looked back and forth between the eager faces and wanted nothing more than to fall into a hole in the ground, "I, yes, I'm sure that the next time I get smacked around, Jack will be there."

"Wine?" David asked.

"That'll dull the ache," Jack said, smiling as took the bottle, poured some into her glass, and then pour some into his own. "Can I tempt you?" He asked Mayor Mills, and was she imagining the huskiness to his voice?

Mayor Mills seemed to consider, "David, will you get jealous if I let another charming young man pour me a glass of wine?" She called over her shoulder.

Jack's eyes widened, and David laughed, "I'll try to keep it in check."

"You heard David, Jack. Do your worst."

The wine slipped and crashed, staining the carpet, "I'm so sorry. I'll … I'll clean it up."

"David, show Jack where the cleaning supplies are."

David nodded and motioned for Jack to follow him. On his way out of the room, Jack gripped Aria's shoulder and squeezed a tad harder than necessary. She tried not to squirm.

"I hope you know that we're doing our best to find the man who clobbered you." Mayor Mills said after the men left the room. "I shan't let something like that happen again. Not in my town."

"No. Of course not." Aria said.

"And you, poor dear. How it must feel, I mean really. As a woman, to have a man push you to the ground and to know that there is not a thing you can do about it. The whole thing is truly horrid. I'm going to do everything in my power to protect the woman of Storybrooke. They must know not to stand around and be vulnerable and helpless. They must know how to protect themselves. Not that you did anything wrong of course."

"Of course."

"More wine?" Aria looked down. She didn't remember drinking any, but perhaps she had. It was not an easy night, and the food hadn't even been served yet.

"We would wait until you leave, but wine tends to set." David said, "I've cleaned my fair share of stains around here. I'm something of an expert really."

Mayor Mills wore a wicked grin, "When David cleans, he does it shirtless. I like to watch."

"Should I, er, take off my shirt?" Jack asked, his voice going up an octave.

David and Mayor Mills both laughed, "Why on earth would you do that?" The Mayor asked.

Jack blushed, then got down on his knees and started to work on the stain.

"Good to have them well trained. My David loves me so much, he'll do just anything. Your marriage is the same, I'm sure?"

Aria drank some wine, "Ava, Nicholas, how is school?" she said, trying to redirect the conversation.

The children looked up as if they had been ignoring the conversation up until this point. Aria rather hoped they had been. Their heads turned to their mother, who nodded.

"School was good." Nicholas said, "A new kid started in the younger grades."

"Henry." Ava supplied.

"Yes. Henry. He's strange."

"From that new family?" David asked.

"They were here for a meal some night this past week." The Mayor said, "The boy turned up his nose at my cooking. He seems a little … peculiar."

"Must be to deny your cooking," Jack said from under the table.

"Yes, speaking of, I should serve-"

"He's smart." Aria heard herself say. She was sorry to interrupt David. He was her favorite person here. But she thought of Henry, helping her, reading to her, being her friend, and she soldiered on, "he's clever and creative and very kind."

"You've spent much time with him?" Mayor Mills asked.

"Enough. David, you were saying something about food?"

David nodded, "I'll go get it." He turned back to the kitchen.

Jack, meanwhile, bumped his head on the table as he tried to stand back up and Aria giggled, hiccupping a little as she did. How much did she have to drink?

"Oi, what you on about?" he asked her.

She shook her head, sobering at his look, "Sorry I … David, do you need some help in the kitchen?" she stood before he could answer, joining David.

"Well, just us then." She heard Mayor Mills say to Jack. Something clattered. Aria just shook her head. This was going to be a long night.


Henry had been surprised to see his grandfather waiting outside the school instead of one of his parents, but he supposed they were busy figuring out stuff like where they were going to live and work. It would be cool to stay and Granny's and be like Zack and Cody, but he figured it'd be better to have a real room he could decorate.

He would have to make sure Aria could get in; he hadn't seen her since the other day at the hospital. Hopefully, she was okay, but he knew his mom was on it, so he shouldn't worry too much. She had looked pretty beat up though.

He hadn't been ready to leave when his grandfather first got there. The kids were gathered around that Paige girl again, playing some card game. He wasn't sure what the game was, be she seemed to be winning.

They wouldn't let him play. Not because he was new, but because he didn't have anything to gamble. He had to remember to bring something next time.

"That girl seems rather popular."

Henry nodded, "I'm trying to figure out who she is. Who everybody is."

"Meaning?" His grandfather asked as Henry fell into step beside him. He actually could drive, despite his injury. Henry had heard stories about how his Grand-Uncle Josh had taught him to drive, how unsteady he was behind the wheel. There was a level of humor in the stories, but his grandfather usually shuddered during recountings of those early days.

Henry did wonder a little why his grandpa didn't bring the car, but it was a nice day in a small town and a little walk wasn't going to kill them. He could ask about it later, maybe. There were more pressing things now.

"Everybody is a fairytale character, remember?" His grandfather nodded, "So I have to figure out who they are. Who they really are, I mean. My principal is missing a hand, which is a big clue, but I'm not sure how yet. I'll have to look through the book more.

But then there's Mr. Hopper, my teacher, and Paige. She's smart and some of the kids are scared of her. She runs games during recess and kids gamble. It's pretty much the only time anybody gets to have fun. I'm not sure if the teachers are actually super-strict, or if the kids are all just cursed to behave outside of recess. Did you learn anything?"

Surprisingly, his grandfather nodded, "The hospital. Did you notice that all the doctors are women?" Henry shook his head, "Henry, does that book of yours talk about fairies at all?"

"Yeah! They are super important! All the important families have patron fairies, like Snow White's Family, and Belle, and Sleeping Beauty, though there are two of her, but she's important because Maleficent is important."

"Forgive me, Henry, I haven't seen these movies since you were quite a bit younger. These names are throwing me a bit."

"Snow White is my other grandma, remember? The story with The Evil Queen and the poison apple?" His grandfather nodded, "And Belle is from Beauty and the Beast-"

"I enjoyed that one."

"And Sleeping Beauty is the one with the sleeping curse. I mean … the other sleeping curse."

"What sort of signs would we need to look for to find these people?"

"I'm not sure. I guess, for now, we just pay close attention to everybody and gather information."

His grandfather nodded, "So if Snow White is your other grandmother, is your other grandfather Prince Charming?" Henry nodded, "Seems I'll have some hefty competition this year for that world's best grandfather award."

"No. I mean, yeah, he's a prince, and that's cool, but you're you, and that's super cool too!"

His grandfather laughed, "Thank you, Henry. Why don't we explore the town a bit, see what we can observe, and perhaps get some ice-cream while we're at it?"

Henry nodded. This was shaping up to be a pretty cool day.


Phillip was brushing Samson, thinking on his time with Gianna. She had wanted to teach him to dance, to have him hold her hand and pull her close. He knew he would be lost. Taking her riding had also had him holding her, but she couldn't see his face then. And he knew his way around a horse better than anything; he knew that he would be focused because he had to be. Maybe then she wouldn't notice.

Gianna had never told him exactly why she was always on the castle grounds. She seemed to have the run of the place, know every nook and cranny as well as he did. He only ever saw her by herself, or with Lulu. He didn't know who her parents were. They could be quite important, or quite ordinary. He didn't care much, except he needed her parents to be people who would let her be friends with the son of a cook.

He knew he didn't have much to offer, but whenever he pictured his future, she was in it.

And today he had heard her singing for the first time and his heart had leaped. She was an amazing girl.

"Phoebus?" he turned at a voice and quickly stood.

He didn't know which royal stood before him, but he could tell from her finery that she was a Queen.

"Your Majesty," he said, bowing low, "Did you have need of a steed?"

She shook her head. She was smiling at him funnily, tears in her eyes. His father came up behind her.

"Phillip, son, there is something I have to tell you. Should have told you and your sister a long time ago."

And then he heard the tale of a brave castle cook who had defied a cruel queen, protecting the children he was supposed to kill and adopting them as his own. And then the Queen, his mother, was on her knees, holding him and Lulu close to her, bawling her eyes out.

"Oh, my children. My Phoebus. My Luna."

"I, um, would like to remain Phillip, your majesty, if that's-"

"None of that. It is mother, always. And I shall call you whatever you wish, so long as you are safe. Oh, my son. My son! My daughter! You're both alive, well and truly."

Phillip knew not what to do with this weeping woman who claimed to be his mother. He patted her back as gently as he could, hoping the tears would cease soon.

"You'll come to live with me at the castle. You'll have everything you desire. Why you could marry the princess of this very kingdom. King Stephan And Queen Briar Rose hinted that they desired a union."

He didn't know what to say. He thought of the only home he had ever known, the only father he had ever known, the only girl who had ever made his heart race.

"Can Papa come with us?" Lulu asked.

"Of course, dear. He shall come and be given lands and title. Thank you for looking after my children," she said to their father, though she did not face him. She seemed unwilling to let go of them.

"Oh my children, my children!"


Mary Margaret hadn't been at the theater this morning, but Emma figured dinner was also a good time for some food and company. Her father-in-law said he would pick up Henry if her and Neal couldn't, so she had some time. And she could use a distraction.

Mary Margaret wasn't around where she usually was, but Emma could hear sounds coming from what appeared to be a rather large closet.

She found Mary Margaret trying on what she assumed was some kind of costume. Was this where the woman got her clothes? It made sense, though much of what Emma saw wasn't so suited to this era. There were lavish gowns and suits of armor, which was hardly practical.

"What show are all these from?"

"Emma!" Mary Margaret started, pulling the sweater she was trying on more tightly around herself, "I, uh, I'm not sure they're from the same one. I think some things were donated … in case they were needed, I suppose."

"It's a lot of props for a theater that never really opened."

Mary Margaret nodded, "I've spent a lot of time in here. It's nice … to pretend."

Emma nodded, understanding. She looked around the place. It really was impressive. There was a ton of pirate gear, peg legs and eyes patches and a hook with a brace. There was a lamp and a staff shaped like a snake. Pretty much every prop from every fairytale Emma knew, and a few she couldn't name.

"I guess Storybrooke is a big fan of Disney movies. That's the spinning wheel from sleeping beauty, right?"

Mary Margaret nodded, "I guess. You know, I never liked that story. Something about a sleeping curse always rubbed me the wrong way."

"Well, it's a curse. It isn't supposed to inspire warm, fuzzy feelings. But I guess the important part is that the curse gets broken and the princess wakes up. You know. Eventually."

Mary Margaret sighed, "I suppose I should be jealous. She goes to sleep, and when she wakes up, all her problems have been solved. She has a handsome Prince who loves her and wants to marry her. I wouldn't mind a Prince Charming coming along to rescue me one of these days."

"Hey, what am I, chopped liver?" Emma asked. Mary Margaret seemed taken aback, "Kidding." Emma reassured quickly, "But you know, I bet you're a lot stronger than you think you are. I doubt you need someone to rescue you. You just need to believe that you can rescue yourself."

"And here I thought you'd declared yourself my savior."

"I've declared myself your friend. And I stand by that. But you can't be saved if you don't want to be. You have to be a part of it. You have to accept help and believe that you deserve it." Mary Margaret said nothing. Emma handed over the burgers and hot cocoa she brought. "So, Henry started at the local school today."

"How'd that go?" Mary Margaret asked after taking a sip.

Emma smiled, "I don't know yet. I don't always trust authority figures so well."

"Aren't you an authority figure?"

"Yeah, but I wasn't always. I remember what it was like."

"Well, I hope it works out. He seems like a sweet kid, and it is a good school. And … I'd hate for you to have to leave."

"If it doesn't work, we'll figure something else out. I'm not planning on leaving." She locked eyes with Mary Margaret, hoping the other woman could hear what she was saying. I'm not leaving you.


Neal had planned to pick Henry up, but his father had seemed to want to, so he had just hung back. He had some dinner and went over his thoughts, which was less than pleasant. He needed a good solid distraction, and scanning the paper for real-estate listings was proving to be very fruitful. Needless to say, he was thrilled when his father finally brought Henry home.

"Hey, bud."

"Hey, dad."

"Didn't school get out over an hour ago?"

His father nodded, "We went looking around. I imagine we'll be doing a bit of that while we're here, getting the lay of the land, so to speak."

"Um, okay. And how was school?"

Henry shrugged, "Not so bad. I like the teacher. I haven't figured out who he is in the book yet though."

"Right." Neal said, trying to keep his smile on, "Um, so you're trying to find out who's who?"

"Of course. You should be too. Did you meet anybody interesting today?"

Neal sighed, "I, uh, met a guy. His girlfriend is in a coma and-"

"That has to be Sleeping Beauty!"

"Why not Snow White? Aren't they both in a coma?" his father asked.

"No, but Prince Charming woke Snow White up before the curse was cast, Prince Phillip didn't get to Sleeping Beauty yet. Well, no the second one. There are two, possibly three. You really should read the book, you know."

"I have been wanting to ask you something Henry." His father said, cautiously, "Have any characters from the Rumpelstiltskin story shown up in that book of yours?"

Way to be obvious, Pop. Both men braced themselves for the answer.

"Sure." Henry said, "I mean, not much is said about him, because I think he was alive a long time before everything went down, but he shows up in the beauty and the beast story." Henry took out his book and opened up to the page, "He and Belle communicate through dreams, even though they live centuries apart."

His father stared at the image, a beautiful young girl dancing in the dark with what appeared to be an imagery figure. "She was real?"

"What?" Neal asked. He looked at his father who appeared to be turning white.

"They're all real. And they're all here. Well, maybe not Rumpelstiltskin. He kind of disappears at the end of the story but … Grandpa? Are you okay?"

His father just kept staring at the image. Finally, Neal put an arm on his father's shoulder, seemingly startling the man. He nearly dropped the book. "He's good Henry. This is all just … a lot to take."

Henry stared at them for a minute, then shook his head, "Well, we both need to be meeting people. Figuring out who everybody is. Finding them. So I think Grandpa should start tutoring again. If he puts up and ad, maybe somebody will come to him for help. I'll keep my eyes open at school, and dad, you'll be getting a job, right?"

"Talked to my boss back home today. She wasn't happy that I just took off, but she said she'd help me out if I needed a reference or any other kind of paperwork."

"Great, so we're all -"

"I'm back!" They heard Emma call. Henry ran and grabbed the book from his grandfather, quickly closing it. "Hey, kid. How was school?" She asked as she came through the door.

"I liked it!"

"You sure? Because I don't want you to feel-"

"Seriously mom, it was great. And Ms. Jones isn't as scary as she comes off. The whole thing was good, I promise. I want to go there."

"Okay. Then we'll make that happen. Did you have dinner?"

"Yeah. From Granny's."

Emma rolled her eyes, "Okay, we need to get a place and a stove. Diner food is nice for once in a while, but -"

"We can go looking for places tomorrow," Neal said, "I mean if that works for you. Not sure what we'll find but …" he shrugged.

"Yeah. It works."


"How do ya know that kid?"

"Hm?" Aria closed the door behind her. They just got back from dinner, and she was hoping to go to sleep. She was always happier asleep than she was awake.

"You said you knew that kid. The new one in town?"

"Oh, I … just met him. A couple of times, I mean."

"Right. Well, best not to spend too much time with strangers?" Aria nodded. She wanted to fight him on it but not fighting was just so much easier sometimes. "I'm headin' to bed. You … yeah." He motioned to the couch. Again, she nodded. A couch was better than nothing.


Maleficent had heard tell of Briar Rose's daughter getting engaged to a changeling prince. Strange, how they would have allowed a non-royal to get so close to their daughter. But in the end, people knew their own. If he hadn't been royal, would she have spared him? No, he would still have been one of them.

She found The Princess in her chamber brushing her hair, "You must be Aurora, Briar Rose's sweet-smelling bud of a daughter."

"Maleficent?" Ah, so that child had heard of her. What exactly had she heard? Clearly enough to be afraid, "But, my father-"

"Said he was going to protect you? He failed."

The child was terrified. It thrilled her. These … people. This simple, innocent does in the woods that could not even protect their young. It would be just like Briar Rose to keep the child innocent and afraid. She always had to have everybody be exactly what she wanted them to be. A simple, scared, virginal princess; why, what else would maleficent expect.

"I was going to kill him, you know. I was going to kill your mother too. Until I realized, they would suffer far worse if they were alive to see what I'm going to do to you."

The child tried to run. Stupid child. Maleficent grabbed her and stopped her easily.

"My mother defeated you. As shall I." Oh, the stories Maleficent could tell the child about her mother and what she was capable of, "All it will take is what I have, and you never will."

"True love? Don't count on it. I have my own quite special curse in mind for your Prince Phillip."

And she pricked the child and laid her down on the bed. The girl would never awaken, and Briar Rose would finally pay for all she had done. At that moment, Maleficent won.


Sean Herman was so glad the day was over. He wanted nothing more than to go home and go to bed, but first, he had to close up a The Glass Slipper. He wiped down the tables, stacked the chairs. All that was left really was to take the trash out back and lock the place. He threw the bag over his shoulder and headed out to the dumpsters.

There was a lighter on the ground. And … was that blood?

He saw blond hair. It was Rosie, the boss's daughter who did the Red Queen bit. Sean lifted her up into his arms and started checking for a pulse or breath. That's what you did right? He didn't know what he was doing. He fumbled in his pocket for his cell and dialed the sheriff's station.

"Hi, it's, I'm behind The Glass Slipper, there's a girl who …I can't wake her up."